Sunday, November 30, 2008

St. Andrew the First-called Apostle

St. Andrew the First-called Apostle - Commemorated on November 30th (Icon courtesy of used with permission)
"The Holy Apostle Andrew the First-called
Andrew, the son of Jonah and brother of Peter, was born in Bethsaida and was a fisherman by trade. At first he was a disciple of St. John the Baptist, but when St. John pointed to the Lord Jesus, saying, Behold the Lamb of God! (John 1:36), Andrew left his first teacher and followed Christ. Then, Andrew brought his brother Peter to the Lord. Following the descent of the Holy Spirit, it fell by lot to the first apostle of Christ, St. Andrew, to preach the Gospel in Byzantium and Thrace, then in the lands along the Danube and in Russia around the Black Sea, and finally in Epirus, Greece and the Peloponnese, where he suffered. In Byzantium, he appointed St. Stachys as its first bishop; in Kiev, he planted a Cross on a high place and prophesied a bright Christian future for the Russian people; throughout Thrace, Epirus, Greece and the Peloponnese, he converted multitudes of people to the Faith and ordained bishops and priests for them. In the city of Patras, he performed many miracles in the name of Christ, and won many over to the Lord. Among the new faithful were the brother and wife of the Proconsul Aegeates. Angered at this, Aegeates subjected St. Andrew to torture and then crucified him. While the apostle of Christ was still alive on the cross, he gave beneficial instructions to the Christians who had gathered around. The people wanted to take him down from the cross but he refused to let them. Then the apostle prayed to God and an extraordinary light encompassed him. This brilliant illumination lasted for half an hour, and when it disappeared, the apostle gave up his holy soul to God. Thus, the First-called Apostle, the first of the Twelve Great Apostles to know the Lord and follow Him, finished his earthly course. St. Andrew suffered for his Lord in the year 62. His relics were taken to Constantinople; his head was later taken to Rome, and one hand was taken to Moscow."
(taken from the Prologue of Ochrid by St. Nikolai:

"In Sinope [Pontos, St. Andrew] prayed for the imprisoned Matthias, his chains fell from him, and the cell door opened. The people beat Andrew, breaking his teeth and cutting his fingers, and left him for dead in a dung heap. Jesus appeared to him and healed him, telling him to be of good cheer. When the people saw him the next day, they were amazed and believed. In Patras, Andrew healed the wife of the proconsul Aegeates of an incurable disease of the eyes. He healed a paralytic, lepers, and all manner of disease. Aegeates heard all of this and arrested Andrew. He tried to compel him through beatings to sacrifice to idols and so restore idolatry in his country. When Andrew refused, he was tied to a cross upside down so that he would live longer and suffer more. Twenty thousand of the faithful stood by and mourned. Even then, Andrew taught them and exhorted them to endure temporary sufferings for the kingdom of heaven. Out of fear of the people, Aegeates came to remove Andrew from the cross. Andrew, however, said that Aegeates could still become a Christian, but that he had already seen Jesus and he would not allow himself to be removed from the cross. Suddenly, a heavenly light illumined Andrew for about half an hour, and then he gave up his spirit."
(Excerpt from the 2005 Daily Lives, Miracles, and Wisdom of the Saints by Tom and Georgia Mitrakos)
The Tradition of St. Andrew in Cyprus (Amateur, work-in-progress translation)
In one of his tours, tradition holds it that the saint came to our island [Cyprus]. The boat, which was traveling to Antioch from Joppa, shortly before passing the well-known cape and islands of the Apostle Andrew, known by the name "Keys" [Kleides], had to stop there in a small harbor, because the wind lull. Over the last few days the water had disappeared. One morning, the master came to the island looking to find water, and he brought with him the Apostle. Unfortunately there was no water anywhere. At some point, when they arrived in the middle of the two churches which exist today, the old and new, that is built a little higher, the Saint kneeled in front of a dry rock and prayed to God to send water. He was seeking the miracle so that all those there would believe in Christ. Later he got up, signed the rock with the sign of the Cross and the miracle happened. From the root of the rock immediately came a spring of water, which runs until today in a pit of the old church and from there goes and comes from a fountain near the sea. It is well-known Holy Water. The blessed water, which refreshed them, but also many others, whole myriads, who partook with faith and were cooled and consoled. First among these was the blind child of the captain.
He was one of the people on the boat who was brought by his father. He was born blind and grew up in a permanent darkness. He had never seen the light. Trees, plants, and animals he struggled to know by touch. That day, when the sailors returned with the bag full of water and explained how it was found on the island, a sweet light of hope lit in the heart of the poor child. Maybe this water, he thought, which emerged from the dry rock after the prayer of that strange fellow, could grant him the light that he sought? Having come about miraculously, perhaps it could provide miracles. With this faith and deep hope the child asked for some water. He drank. He was burning from thirst. The apostle, who was there, rushed and gave the child a container full of the cool water. But the child preferred instead of cooling his lips with the water to wash his face with it. And miracle of miracles! Once the cool water hit the bulbs of the eyes of the child, the chronic darkness began to fall apart. And a light, cheerful light, began to wash the things around...

- "Father, father", the child began to shout when [ψαχουλεύοντας] and ran to find his father. And the captain who was startled by the voices of the child ran to the place where he heard the voice. When he reached the child he stopped, bent down and opened his arms.

- «My child, what are you trying to say?» the father asked with terror.

- «I see! My father, I see! Look at me, I see the sea, people, the sails of our boat inflate. Father, the blessed water which that old man gave me to drink and wash, that granted me what I was seeking. My light, Father ... »

After a short break that ended in tears and sobbing gratitude the captain stood up and said:

- «Child, go and find the pappouli [old man] you were talking about, so we can thank him for what he gave us!».

- "Not me", said the apostle who approached. "Everyone should thank Christ. He gave us the water. He healed the child. He is the True God, who became man and came to the world to save us! »

And the apostle, who everyone gazed on with admiration, began to speak and to teach the new religion. The end of the speech was very fruitful. All those who heard believed and were baptized. First was the captain with his child, who took the name Andreas. And then all the other passengers and some fishermen who were there. They all believed in Christ proclaimed to them by the Apostle and were baptized. Naturally, from the miraculous cure of the blind child, more and more began to follow. In the meantime the wind began to blow and the boat was prepared to continue his journey. The Apostle, who invited to him all those who believed in Christ and were baptized, gave them some final advice and bade them farewell. Thus on this blessed island was organized a group, a church of believers in the one True God.

Many years later, on the place were the Apostle walked, which was blessed with the prayers, miracles, and sweat of the First-called, the great monastery of Apostolos Andreas was built, which over time became a Pan-Cyprian pilgrimage. Each year thousands of pilgrims from all parts of Cyprus, orthodox and heterodox, and even heathen, gather at the monastery to venerate the miraculous icon of the Apostle, to baptize newborn children and offer rich gifts in money or treasure [είδη], to express thanks and gratitude to the divine Apostle. The church is the Font of Siloam to those who are suffering. Multitudes of miracles occur to those visitors with true faith and contrite souls.

In all the temples of our martyred island [Cyprus] we will find the holy icon and the name of the Apostle as one of the most common among the people (Andreas or Adreani - Androula). For reasons only the Lord knows, for many years - since 1974 - the holy monastery together with all Karpasia, the Mesaoria and North Cyprus have been under the sovereignty of...the Turks. Liturgies are not normally performed in the blessed churches that are in these parts. And the bells are no longer rung to invite the faithful [to worship]... But the holy water which sprung from the land after the prayer of the Apostle Andrew remains and continues the gush forth. It continues to gurgle and waits for the holy hour when the faithful of the island, washed and purified in the tears of genuine repentance, will be free again to visit the beautiful monastery and to chant to the Lord thanksgiving for salvation from the evils and bitter trials and to drink and be refreshed from the sweet water. May God, with the help and the intercessions of St. Andrew the Apostle, and all of the other saints of Cyprus, make this day to come quickly.

St. Andrew the First-called (
St. Andrew in Patras
The end of the Apostle resembles the rest of his life. He was martyred in Patras, where he had arrived to convey the message of deliverance and spread the light of Christ. His visit brought forth many fruits. In a few days his teaching with the many miracles of his literally shook-up the foundations of idolatry in Achaia. Among the first who believed was the Proconsul himself. Thus it was said that during the Roman times, the Romans ruler who managed one of the provinces of the state which was called Lesvios, was gravely ill, and was healed by the Apostle. At the example of the Procounsul, other Pagans were quick to follow. But this became known in Rome, and the Emperor Nero, blinded [λύσσαξε] from evil, instructed Lesvios to be replaced immediately by Aegeatis, a very fanatic and hardened pagan.

The First-called met everyday with Lesvios and continued his sermons and miraculous cures. Crowds of people from all over the Achaia watched with interest every day and many joined the ranks of believers. To them were also added the wife of Aegeatis, Maximilla, his brother Stratoklis, a wise mathematician, and many others from their relatives and company.
The proconsul Aegeatis, although he saw his wife Maximilla was saved from certain death by the intervention of the First-called, and though he saw his brother Stratokli, who he admired so, accept the new faith, he remained unmoved. He met with his wife and said that he would deny Christ. But Maximilla did not listen to him.

-I prefer to be separated from you than from my Christ.

And he, blinded by his passion, ordered the arrest of the First-called and for him to be placed in prison. To blackmail the woman who was committed to Christ, he threatened that if she did not return to the idolatry of their fathers, he would horribly torture the Elder Apostle and in the end will crucify him. Troubled, Maximilla ran to the prison to convery the threats of her husband. The good woman trembled, that such harm would befall the worker of her salvation.

- Do not be afraid for my life, my daughter" the First-called said. "Keep your faith firmly. It 's an honor and grace of God for me to be made worthy to leave this world in the same way our Saviour did. Let Aegeatis do what he wants. Let him cut me with swords. Let him burn me with fire. Let him nail me to the cross. «The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us». [Romans 8:18] Stratoklis, who was there, cried.

- "Don 't cry", the apostle said. "One day we get out of this world. «For here we have no permanent city». [Hebrews 13:14] Watch only the seed of the Gospel, which has been sown in your heart. Let it spread carefully.

The words of the Apostle boosted the courage of Maximilla and Stratoklis and increased [ατσάλωσαν] their willingness to fight to the end. The Aegeatis once again called his wife to him and tried with sweet words and flattering to separate [μεταπείσει] them from the faith of Christ.

- I'm ready to do everything for your love, he said. If you are persuaded to leave Christ, you would be my queen in my house. Otherwise I will nail the old man to the cross, who took away your mind, and I will kill you. The response of Maximillas was truly heroic.

- I prefer a thousand times death rather than life with a pagan like you. The words of the Christian heroine fired-up the anger of her husband, who gave a mandate to torture the Apostle hard and finally to lift him upon a cross, which had the shape of the letter X, which had been set up in the «mouth of the sea of Ammoudias» [«χείλος της θαλάσσιας αμμουδιάς» begins with the greek letter X. Note that other accounts hold that the St. Andrew asked to be nailed on an X-shaped cross, out of his feelings of unworthiness to suffer in the same way as Christ (the same sentiments that led to his brother, St. Peter, being crucified upside-down).] On the Cross, which was made from olive wood, the hands and feet of the Apostle were tied, not nailed. And this was done by the Proconsul to keep the Saint alive for a long time to torture him.

Icon of the Martyrdom of St. Andrew in Patras (Icon courtesy of used with permission)

From a sea, the beautiful sea of Galilee, the Lord called the great Fisherman to follow Him to become a Disciple and a fisher of men. Somewhere else near the sea, the sea of the historic city of Patras, again Christ called his Disciple, the Apostle Andreas, after hard work of sowing his word, to reach our heavenly homeland, to receive the incorruptible crown of righteousness. The Apostle left this world at the age of 80.

Christians of Achaia deeply mourned his death. The pain was still greater, when the Proconsul Aegeatis refused to surrender the holy relic for burial. But God worked thrings according to His Providence. On the same day the saint died, Aegeatis went crazy and committed suicide. "The death of sinners is evil." The Christians with their bishop Stratoklis, the first bishop of Patras, then received the the Sacred Relic and they buried it with great honor. Later, when the throne of Byzantium was ascended by Constantius, who was the son of Constantine the Great, part of the sacred relics were transferred from the city of Patras to Constantiniple and enshrined in the Church of the Holy Apostles «inside the Holy Altar».

The holy of Skull of the First-called seems to have remained in Patras. But when the Turks were to occupy the city in 1460, then Thomas Paleologos, brother of the last emperor Constantine Paleologos and last Master of Moria, took the valuable heirloom and moved to Italy. There it was placed in the church of St. Peter in Rome, where it remained until 1964. On September 26th of that year, a delegation from the pope Paul transferred from Rome the precious treasure and delivered it to its rightful owner, the Church of Patras. The holy Skull of the First-called, after the request of the Archdiocese visited Cyprus in 1967 for a few days and thousands of Cypriots then, young and old, men and women, started from all four corners of our island and went to venerate the Holy Skull of the First-called and show deep and pious reverance and gratitude for what he had provided the island.

In memory of the great apostle let every the soul of every Greek heart kneel in devotion. He is one of the apostles who loved [Greece] and struggled to pass-on the unwaning light of Christ. May his message: «we have found the Messiah» become our motto for life.

«We have found the Messiah» the First-called Apostle cries out also to us. Christ was and is the only Savior and redeemer of mankind. Thus you will also know Him, if you come to know the your Author and Lord and if you place His will and law as the guide of your life. Yes! if you put the holy will and his law as the guide and partner in your life. Because Christ was and is «yesterday and today by Him and in the century». The rescue us embrace this message with all unexceptional faith flogeri Do people in the martyred to see this place better days. That precipitate the sin rectified and again only an honest repentance. With genuine repentance and soul crushing us again resort to all our Savior Christ and ask you to forgive us as they once Ninefites and to restore to us our freedom. And we hear the Lord. We will certainly listen. We attest to the holy words: «Epikalesai with us says, if you thlipseos day in and exeloumai and beliefs with». Son, wherever you care, called the pain with you. And I hear. And will give you what you want, because it is for your own good. And will beliefs. Are you listening? Would give in and with beliefs.
(amateur translation of Greek text from:νοεμβριου; a work-in-progress)

For a folk tale based on a true miracle of St. Andrew see:

Picture of the Holy Relics (his Holy Skull, pieces of the Cross he was crucified on, etc.) of St. Andrew in his Church in Patras, Greece (picture from
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
As first of the Apostles to be called, O Andrew, brother of him (Peter) who was foremost, beseech the Master of all to grant the world peace and our souls great mercy.

Kontakion in the Second Tone
Let us praise the namesake of bravery, the divinely eloquent and first to be called of the Disciples of Christ, the kinsman of Peter. As he called out to him in days of old, so now he calls to us, "Come, we have found Him for whom we yearned."
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Friday, November 28, 2008

St. James the Persian, the Great Martyr

St. James the Great Martyr of Persia - Commemorated on November 27th (taken from:
Life of the Saint from the Great Synaxaristis (taken from:
"The Holy Great-martyr James the Persian
Whose memory we celebrate on November 27

James, the glorious greatmartyr of Christ, was from Persia. He lived during the years of the pious Kings Arcadius and Honorius, the sons of the Great Theodosius, who ruled in the year 395 A.D. He abode in Veethiavan of Persia, situated in the land of Elouzeesion. Then, Isdigerdis I and Bahram V, his son, ruled over the Persians. They were cruel and pitiless men. They forced the Christians (whomever they found) to worship, as they did, the senseless idols. Now James was a lord of merit, notable and of good service to the nation. He was honored and beloved by all, as he was wealthy, knowledgeable and virtuous. Wherefore, he was first in the palace, and the king exceedingly loved him. He bestowed on him great importance and abundant gifts. So much did Isdigerdis and his son Bahram love James, that they did not wish to be separated even one hour from him. They displayed such favor, that they had him as a brother, for he was well-mannered and his family prominent. But this was so that they could cunningly lure him to impiety. For James was a Christian from childhood just as were his parents and wife, both pious and faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ. So, these villains tried hard to estrange him with gifts and gratuities. They elected to be good-natured and discreet, and to persuade him with benefits and flatteries, rather than with threats and torments. However, this marvellous James, who resisted at first, was defeated by the many generous favors of the ruler, and alas! he was captured. He denied the most sweet Christ and worshipped the demons, and became one in spirit with the king.

But do not frown; hearken, and strengthen your heart, attend to this. Because just as one drop of water drips continually onto the hard marble to pefforate it, so many gifts and favors are able to convert the gratified soul with ease and quickness; thus, did the ever-memorable one have the solid rock of his faith hollowed out. But listen to his end to receive exultation and joy, that God (Who foreknows and foresees) does not overlook but straightens the fallen and illuminates the way of the blind.

It was circulated around the land that James had denied Christ. This news came into the ears of his mother and spouse, who were wounded in their hearts upon hearing these unexpected words. Since they were not present to censure his tongue, they sent him a letter, saying thus:

"It was not proper to your nobility to exchange falsehood for the truth; to defraud the faith for the honor of men and temporary rewards, which pass by as a dream and disperse like smoke; and to love the perishable and temporary kingdom, and abandon immortality and eternity. For this violation you would elect to be cast into the inextinguishable fire and endless torment? You, who are unworthy of His love, denied Christ, in order to gain one worin-eaten man? 0 the mindlessness! What are you able to benefit by them, when you go together into torment? We have been greatly distressed by you and pour forth many tears and, with all our hearts, we pray to the true God not to desert you, as He is compassionate, but to receive your return. So recognize the mischief that you have created to become a son of darkness, instead of light, which you were formerly. Recover and revert again to godliness. And, if you do not repent speedily, know this: you no longer have any relation with us. But we wish to be as strangers and foreigners to you, and you will inherit nothing from us, so as to be completely separated from our society. Because not one particle has the light with the darkness, and the faithful with the faithless. So make a good return. Whereas, you departed badly; but the Master, Whom you denied, will receive you with open arms and rejoicing. If you disdain our advice and tears, when you reach the divine trial, you will be punished in torments endlessly and your crying will be in vain.

These things James read in the letter, and he remained in a stupor; indeed, as if from sleep and drunkenness, he was roused, realizing the treasure df faith of which he was destitute, and the evil of error into which he had tumbled. He cried bitterly and repented from his heart of the former things and beat his breast, lamenting and crying before the Master to forgive the iniquity, as He is compassionate. In imitation of Manasseh and Peter's repentance, he studied the Holy Scriptures and recalled the bitter punishments. He was not able to cease the tears, and it was evident he repented of his former impiety. Wherefore, certain isolators perceived and learned the reason for his disquiet. They calumniated him to the king. The king's heart was wounded on hearing such things. Infuriated, he summoned him for questioning and inquired if he were a Nazarene. James answered boldly and eagerly:

"Yes, I am a servant of my Lord Jesus Christ."
The king's rage grew, but he remembered their previous friendship, so he did not make a display or an outburst of anger. As in preceding times, he tested him with flatteries and by promising gifts; but at other times, with threats of hideous punishments and torments, to see, perchance, if he would waver. But the coward was not effective, because the saint thirsted for martyrdom.

The blessed James, in order to cause the tyrant to slay him quickly, answered him thus:

"In vain you labor, attempting with feeble means to sow wheat in the guff, or to hold back the winds in a net. In this way, it is not possible any longer to change my belief from piety. So then, lay aside all hope, so as not to conceal your wrath any more, Cut my body into pieces, punish, burn it, do with it as you will, but my soul you will not be able to turn to godlessness."

Again, the king tempted him with flatteries to ensnare him. Hiding his anger, he said to him with feigned love:

James, pity your body, your blossoming manhood, remember our im measurable friendship. Be not deprived of any worldly pleasures in this sweet life, in order to receive harsh pains and the bitterest death for these uncertain good hopes. I promise you that you will have wealth and power in my kingdom, greater than before. Yes, my beloved and dearest friend, I entreat you not to have contempt for our great friendship and appear before me ungrateful, because, if you disobey, it is necessary - although I do not want to - that you be taught a lesson. But do not think that I will be lenient later: no, it is not true, but I will change the love that I have for you now, into hatred that is commensurate with your disobedience. And I will deliver you to unheard-of, horrible torments."

"0 king, do not waste time importunely. Do not frighten me with torments, nor insincerely compliment me with tributes and gifts, because I despise from my heart all temporal enjoyments, empty glory, decaying riches and bodily sensuality, in order to inherit the true wealth and the honor, inexpressible delight and bliss. Wherefore, gladly I divest myself of wealth and glory, friends and relatives, mother, wife and all the pleasures of the body. And not only these things, but I am prepared to receive 10,000 deaths, only not to injure my sweet Christ, the Beautiful One among the sons of men, Who fashioned the sun, moon and the remainder of creation, and His divine will is equal to His power. He who denies Him goes to endless death."
This, in addition to other things, uttered the blessed James. And the king went into a furious rage, realizing it was impossible to pervert him. Wherefore, he took counsel with a certain senator, who recommended such severity, that upon hearing it, the king shuddered. That is: to dissever the joints, starting first with the fingers of his hands, and afterwards, the remainder of the joints. 0 the inhuman decision! What other unsparing tyrant ever revealed such pitilessness towards his friend? 0 savage judgment and inexorably-merciless soul! Whoever heard it felt empathy; not only the faithful, but even those godless idolators among the nations, wept at such a ferocious verdict. But our true martyr did not shrink back upon hearing such a sentence; rather, he hastened to the stadium with excessive joy and eagerness.

A large portion of the population assembled in order to witness the hideous sight. Not only people, but also the angels and demons were present at this mighty contest and violent duel. The angels were present in order to assist the saint invisibly to receive the crown, and the adversaries to prevent him, if possible, and to frustrate his purpose. Also, the word of the apostle was fulfilled:

"...for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men"(AV; I Cor. 4:9). For even the Great Promoter of contests and Heavenly King was there and stood above him to strengthen him in this match and, in the end, to grant him the imperishable crown. As the admirable and magnanimous man observed the fierce executioners and the forbidding instruments with which they were to cut him into pieces, he did not fear those devices prepared. Every kind soul, seeing another suffering thus, would feel sorrow and pity for him as a man. But he did not show any gloom and never uttered anything foul, nor did he suffer to do anything unworthy of his valor. But, as if his flesh was insensible, he stood with a joyous glance and cheerful face.

The executioners tied the hands and feet of the martyr and after, they placed his right arm on the anvil, saying to him:

"Behold what will happen to you for your disobedience. We have been instructed to cut off your members one by one: your fingers, hands, feet, arms, ankles, knees, and finally your head. Therefore, reason before you taste these horrors and do that which is for your own -good, for there is no repentance afterwards."

Certain of his friends and acquaintances implored him with tears to have pity on himselfand not voluntarily receive such a horrendous and evil death. The saint answered them:

"Weep not for me, 0 wretched ones, but lament for yourselves and your children, as you will go to eternal damnation with your gods for these temporal pleasures. I though, for a day's pain, will inherit the Kingdom of my Lord Jesus Christ and, also, indescribable joy and everlasting bliss."

After saying this, he noticed that the executioners were readying their tools to cut off his limbs. Consequently, he asked time to make a prayer to the Lord, and he prayed that He would strengthen and assist him to complete the contest and receive the crown of martyrdom.

Icon depicting the fearsome martyrdom of St. James the Persian (
As they began the martyrdom, the executioners cut off his thumb. And he turned toward heaven and said:

"0 Lord Jesus Christ, the Help of all those who are helpless, the Hope of all the hopeless, and the Strength of all the weak: receive the first branch of this tree by Thy mercy. For as the vineyard gives forth leaves even when it is trimmed, thus will I appear before Thy judgment seat, safe and upright on the Day of Resurrection."

When they cut off his second finger, he said, "Receive, 0 Lord, the second branch of the tree that Thy right hand hath planted."

His face was joyous and festive, as if he perceived our Lord's future endowments. Then, they cut off his third finger, and he said, "With the three youths in the furnace, I sing to Thee and honor Thee, 0 Lord; with the choirs of martyrs, I sing praises to Thy holy name."

As they cut off his fourth and fifth fingers, his mouth was filled with praise, and he said, "In my five senses I bless Thee, 0 Lord; wherefore, receive the good pains of my right hand as a blessed fruit, 0 Master."

Then they severed the fingers of his left hand, one by one, and he was grateful at each, saying an appropriate praise and hymn.

Certain of his friends who stood by said to him, crying bitterly:

"Beloved brother, have pity upon yourself, for they will administer upon you an evil death, and in losing your life, you will be deprived of your mother, wife, and the rest of life's enjoyments. Do not grieve for your fingers, as we have doctors here capable of curing them. You have sufficient wealth and do not require the use of your hands. So listen to us, for your own good, and just say one small word with your mouth, so that it will appear as if you obeyed the king's command and, thereby, you will be delivered from the evil torturers. But in your heart, you believe in God and, when you return again to your country, you can repent and ask forgiveness of Him."
And he answered them:

"God forbid! I will not commit such a pretense. One cannot serve two masters. Whosoever puts his hand to the plough and turns back, is not worthy of the heavenly bliss. It is not right for me to love my mother and wife more than I love my God and Savior. Whosoever does not lift up his cross to follow Christ, is an unworthy servant. For these small pains, I go to my Master to receive the laurel of martyrdom. Therefore, I pray thee, do not sorrow for me, but rejoice and be glad with me."

As the executioners heard this, they cut off the toes of his feet one by one, in order to submit him to even more pain. But he was firm and adamant, thanking them at each toe, singing a hymn. At one point he was heard to say, "The aftlictions of the present are not worthy of the future glory.

At other times, he encouraged himself, saying, "Why is my soul saddened?" and many other verses.

St. James the Persian (Icon courtesy of used with permission)
Then, they cut off his feet at the ankles. And then, they severed them again at the knees. Afterwards, they mercilessly cut off his hands and arms. But the resolute one endured with a great soul, as he saw his fingers, hands and legs on the ground. He did not utter one angry word at the executioners or the judge, but only prayed incessantly, in order to comfort and encourage himself, with verses from the old Testament, such as: 'I will sing unto the Lord throughout my life, I will chant to my God for as long as I have my being. May my words be sweet unto Him, and I will rejoice in the Lord."

Behold a true martyr's valor! Behold Thy wonders, 0 Christ King! How did the invincible one withstand such rigorous pains and afflictions? 0 ye listeners, were you not awestricken, or was not your soul grieved at the sight of such an unprecedented mutilation? All those who were present at this fearful and horrid sight (not only the faithful, but even the persecutors, and the very senseless rocks), must have felt pity. Only that unbending soul and friend of Christ did not weep, but withstood those terrifying and awful tortures with a serene and upright face. For such is the love of God. When it possesses a noble soul, it empowers it to overcome nature and not to fear pains and punishments. Without this power, it would have been impossible for him to bear so many torments' as did the others who, for the loss of an arm or leg, died instantly, being unable to bear the excruciating pain. But the praiseworthy and ever-blessed one did not experience three or ten deaths, but twenty or thirty. The blood ran as rivers, the flesh fell, the veins were severed, the nerves plucked out, the arteries destroyed, the members were scattered. The audience fainted and the executioners grew weary. The demons, having been vanquished, were horror-stricken and panicked. The angels marvelled. But he that endured, seemed joyous, and his eye was not morbid, but cheerful, and he looked merry, rather than dismembered.
St. James the Persian, the Great Martyr (Source:, used with permission)
Then they cut off the thighs of the martyr, and the pain was so acute, that he cried out saying, "Christ, help me."

And the executioners said to him: "Did we not tell you that you will suffer extreme pains and tortures, and you did not believe us? Now ask your God to save you from these punishments.
And he answered: "I do not ask Christ to rescue me from the torments, but to strengthen me till the end, so that I may receive the laurel, 0 senseless ones. I felt pain, in order to prove that I am in the flesh. But earlier, my mind was in my Lord Jesus Christ, Who lessened my pains, and I did not feel anything. Truly, just as the anvil is struck by the hammer and feels nothing, also I felt nothing, as I was being tormented. Therefore, I thank my God, and beg of you not to feel sad for me, but do dissolve this old structure of my flesh, that a new and brighter one will be raised up. Since you have cut off the branches, do not hesitate to chop down the tree also, that I may receive the heavenly bliss. For just as a deer wishes to reach the rivers of water, so I desire in death to attain my Creator."

Even though he was dismembered thus, the invincible one safeguarded his piety and won trophies against all of them, with the aid of the Holy Spirit and his unsurpassed desire. He remained, therefore, only with his head and torso, a dreadful sight to behold. Alas! But the villainous rulers, seeing that, even though he was dismembered, he was not afraid, but, rather, they were frightened. They had no further hope for him, so they ordered his honored head to be cut off, as the other members of his body. They ordered this, not because of any merciful sentiments or sympathy, but from their excessive shame, so that it would not seem that James defeated them, dismembered thus, and that the invisible power of the Lord might not be confessed in the saint.

After the decision, the saint was solaced somewhat. He moved his honored head with difficulty, and prayed thus: "0 Lord, Father Almighty and Lord Jesus Christ and Most Holy Spirit, I thank Thee that Thou hast enabled me to endure these torments for Thy holy name. But I pray Thee, make me worthy to complete this contest, for 'the pangs of hell came round about me' (LXX, Psalm 17:5). They have severed all my limbs. I have no legs to stand on and worship Thy majesty, nor hands to lift up to heaven to pray and call Thy name. They left me neither knees, nor arms, the merciless ones, but I remain as a branchless tree without roots. Therefore, I beseech Thee, 0 Most Holy King, abandon not Thy servant, but take my soul out of the prison of my body, and place it among Thy holy martyrs, so that we may glorify forever Thy majesty in the ages to come. Amen."

Icon of St. James the Persian, the Great Martyr (
After he said these things, they cut off his honorable head, and thus, he achieved all those indescribable blessings: "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God bath prepared for them that love Him" (I Cor. 2:9).

If then, as Saint Paul says, each one of us will receive a reward according to his own labor, how great will be his reward, who died a myriad deaths and witnessed suffering above all human endurance? In all truth, just as the pains and anguish were atrocious, so will the pleasures be painless, the rewards countless, the delights unutterable, and the crowns glorious. The blessed James received his martyrdom in Babylon, on Friday, November 27. Immediately afterwards, certain Christians, beloved of God, approached the guards and offered them money, in order to permit them to take part of his holy relics. But out of fear for the king, they did not wish to consent to this. Then the pious ones left, as if to depart, but actually they hid nearby and awaited till it was dark to procure at least a part of the relics. And as the night wore on, the guards fell asleep, the pious Christians crept forward, quietly, and carried away the precious relics of the martyr. They buried them devoutly and with honor, as an everlasting memorial and remembrance to the glory and praise of our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom is meet honor, song and worship, with the Father and the All-Holy Life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Translated froin the Greek by Leonidas Papadopulos and Georgia Lizardos from the Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church, Volume 11, November, 5th Edition. Athens, Greece. Publisher: Archimandrite Md tthew Lagges, 1979, pp.677-685. Copyright © by Papadopulos & Lizardos 1982.

Fresco of the Martyrdom of St. James the Persian from Decani Monastery (
Απολυτίκιο. Ήχος δ’. Ταχύ προκατάλαβε.
Ο Μάρτυς Ιάκωβος, ο της Περσίδας βλαστός, τον δόλιον δράκοντα, τοις των αιμάτων κρουνοίς, αθλήσας απέπνιξε, πίστει γαρ αληθείας, μεληδόν τετμημένος, ώφθη τροπαιοφόρος, του Σωτήρος οπλίτης, πρεσβεύων αδιαλείπτως, υπέρ των ψυχών ημών.
Apolytikion in the First Tone
Be entreated, O Lord, by the sufferings endured for You by the Saints, and we pray You, heal all our pain.
Another Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone (amateur translations unless specified)
The Martyr James, from the root of Persia, through his struggle drowned the deceiving dragon in the streams of his blood. For the faith of the truth, his members were cut off, he appeared as a trophy-bearer and soldier of the Savior, and he intercedes ceaselessly for our souls.
Kontakion in the Second Tone
O stout-hearted James, persuaded by thy noble wife, and fearing the dread tribunal, thou didst scorn all fear of the Persians with their profane decrees, and thou wast shown forth to be a most wondrous martyr of Christ, when all of thy body was pruned like a vine.
Let us all cry out from our soul, and shed tears, beholding how the Martyr is bitterly torn apart. For his executioners have gathered around like dogs, and have torn apart the members of this wondrous and brave Martyr among the Martyrs. For would you not say that he was a little patient? And I respond diligently how he was offered to the Lord, when all of his body was pruned like a vine.
On the 27th of this month (November), the memory of the struggle of the Holy Great Martyr James the Persian.
Your members were cut apart, and the Persian bore slaughter,
"That I might save my soul, take away my members", he says.
On the twenty-seventh, the Persian was torn to pieces.

St. James the Persian, the Great Martyr (
St. James the Persian the Great-martyr, intercede for us!
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

St. Catherine the Great Martyr and All-wise

St. Catherine the Great Martyr - Celebrated on November 25th*** (13th Century Icon of St. Catherine with Scenes from her life, from the Monastery of St. Catherine - Mount Sinai (
***Note: According to the ancient usage, Saints Catherine and Mercurius were celebrated on the 24th of this month, whereas the holy Hieromartyrs Clement of Rome and Peter of Alexandria were celebrated on the 25th. The dates of the feasts of these Saints were interchanged at the request of the Church and Monastery of Mount Sinai, so that the festival of Saint Catherine, their patron, might be celebrated more festively together with the Apodosis of the Feast of the Entry of the Theotokos. The Slavic Churches, however, commemorate these Saints on their original dates.
"The Holy Great Martyr Katherine was the daughter of Constus, the governor of Alexandria in Egypt, during the reign of the emperor Maximian (305-313). Living in the capital, Katherine received a most splendid education, having studied the works of the finest philosophers and teachers. Young men from the most worthy families of the empire sought the hand of the beautiful Katherine, but none of them was chosen. She declared to her parents that she would only enter into marriage with someone who surpassed her in reputation, wealth, beauty and wisdom.

Katherine's mother, a secret Christian, sent her for advice to her own spiritual father -- a saintly elder pursuing prayerful deeds in solitude in a cave not far from the city. Having listened to Katherine, the elder said that he knew of a youth, who surpassed her in everything, such that "His beauty was more radiant than the shining of the sun, His wisdom governed all creation, His riches were spread throughout all the world ". The image of the Christ produced in the soul of the holy maiden an ardent desire to see Him. In parting, the elder handed Katherine an icon of the Mother of God with the God-Child Jesus on Her arm and bid her to pray with faith to Mary to show her a vision of Her Son.

Another icon of St. Catherine with scenes from her life (taken from:
Katherine prayed all night and was able to see the Most Holy Virgin who told Her Divine Son to look upon the kneeling of Katherine before Them. But the Child turned His face away from her saying that He was not able to look at her because she was ugly, of shabby lineage, beggarly and mindless like every person -- not washed with the waters of holy Baptism and not sealed with the seal of the Holy Spirit. Katherine returned again to the elder deeply saddened. He lovingly received her, instructed her in the faith of Christ, admonished her to preserve her purity and integrity and to pray unceasingly; he then performed over her the sacrament of holy Baptism. And again Saint Katherine had a vision of the Most Holy Mother of God with Her Child. Now the Lord looked tenderly at her and gave her a ring -- a wondrous gift of the Heavenly Bridegroom.
The Theotokos and Christ appearing to St. Catherine (source)
At this time the emperor Maximian was himself in Alexandria for a pagan feast day. Because of this, the feast was especially splendid and crowded. The cries of the sacrificial animals, the smoke and the smell of the sacrifices, the endless blazing of fires, and the bustling crowds at the arenas filled Alexandria.
St. Catherine before the Emperor, fresco by Alevizakis (source)
Human victims also were brought -- because they chose to die in the fire rather than deny Christ under torture. The Saint's love for the Christian martyrs and her fervent desire to lighten their fate impelled Katherine to go to the emperor-persecutor Maximian.
St. Catherine the Great Martyr (source)
Introducing herself, the saint confessed her Christian faith and with wisdom denounced the errors of the pagans. The beauty of the maiden captivated the emperor. In order to convince her and show the superiority of pagan wisdom, the emperor gave orders to gather 50 of the most learned men of the empire, but the Saint got the better of the wise men, such that they themselves came to believe in Christ. Saint Katherine shielded them with the sign of the cross, and they bravely accepted death for Christ and were burnt by order of the emperor.

St. Catherine debating and defeating Fifty philosophers (taken from the following link, see for the full account of St. Catherine's defense:
Maximian, no longer hoping to convince the saint, tried to entice her with the promise of riches and fame. Having received an angry refusal, the emperor gave orders to subject the saint to terrible tortures and then throw her in prison. The Empress Augusta, who had heard much about Katherine, wanted to see her. Having succeeded in convincing the military-commander Porphyry to accompany her with a detachment of soldiers, Augusta went to the prison. The strong spirit of Saint Katherine, whose face glowed with Divine grace, impressed the empress. The holy martyr explained the teachings of the Christians to the people and they believed and were converted to Christ.

16th Century icon of St. Catherine (from the iconostasis of the Katholikon), holding the Cross of a Martyr, the wheel on which she was tortured, and a palm branch symbolizing victory. At her feet are books, geographical tools, etc. which symbolize her great wisdom and learning. Behind her in the icon are depicted the Prophet Moses and the Burning Bush (prefiguring the Theotokos) and the Angels transferring St. Catherine's Relic. (taken from:
On the following day they again brought the her to the judgment court where, under the threat of being tortured on a wheel of spikes and nails, they urged that she recant from the Christian faith and offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. The saint steadfastly confessed Christ and she herself approached the wheel; but an Angel smashed the sharp tools, which broke up into pieces that hit pagans who were passing by. Having beheld this wonder, the empress Augusta and the imperial courtier Porphyry with 200 soldiers confessed their faith in Christ in front of everyone, and they were beheaded. Maximian again tried to entice Saint Katherine, proposing marriage to her, and again he received a refusal. She confessed her fidelity to the Heavenly Bridegroom Christ, and with a prayer to Him she herself put her head on the block under the sword of the executioner and was beheaded." At her execution, milk flowed from her wounds instead of blood by the Grace of God."

Icon of St. Catherine's body being carried by Holy Angels to Mount Sinai (Icon courtesy of used with permission)
"Following her martyrdom, angels bore her body to the peak of Mount Saint Catherine, where they rested until they were translated to the catholicon of the Holy Monastery of Sinai. Here they continue to emit a sweet fragrance, and many miracles are wrought to this day. The veneration of Saint Catherine spread throughout the West, especially after the translation of relics of Saint Catherine to Rouen by Symeon Pentaglosses, in the early eleventh century. The numerous pilgrims to the monastery from that time resulted in the gradual change of name from the Holy Monastery of Sinai to that of Saint Catherine’s Monastery." (taken from:
Reliquary of St. Catherine, Mount Sinai (taken from:
"The marble chest containing the relics of Saint Catherine is located at the south side of the sanctuary in the catholicon of the holy monastery. It is the construction of Procopius the stonecutter, who took nine years to complete the shrine in honor of Saint Catherine. This shrine replaced the earlier marble chest, which is preserved today in the monastery’s treasury. Inside are to be found two precious reliquaries given by the Russian Empire for this purpose, the one enshrining the precious head of the martyr, and the other her left hand. The relics of Saint Catherine are brought out for the veneration of the faithful on special occasions, at which time each pilgrim is given a silver ring bearing the monogram of the saint, in honor of the ring that Saint Catherine received from Christ. These are preserved by pilgrims as a blessing from the saint." (taken from:
For three hymns in praise of St. Catherine, see:
Icon of St. Catherine the Great Martyr (Icon courtesy of used with permission)
Apolytikion in the Plagal of the First Tone
Let us praise the most auspicious bride of Christ, the divine Katherine, protectress of Sinai, our aid and our help. For, she brilliantly silenced the eloquence of the impious by the sword of the spirit, and now, crowned as a martyr, she asks great mercy for all.
Kontakion in the Second Tone
O friends of martyrs, now divinely raise up a renewed chorus, praising the all-wise Katherine. For, she proclaimed Christ in the arena, trampled on the serpent, and spat upon the knowledge of the orators.
(taken from:
St. Catherine the Great Martyr, with scenes from her life (
Saint Catherine the Great-martyr, intercede for us!
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Entrance of the Holy Theotokos into the Temple

The Entry into the Temple of the Most-holy Theotokos - Commemorated on November 21st (Icon courtesy of used with permission)

"When the Most-holy Virgin Mary reached the age of three, her holy parents Joachim and Anna took her from Nazareth to Jerusalem to dedicate her to the service of God according to their earlier promise. It was a three-day journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem but, traveling to do a God-pleasing work, this journey was not difficult for them. Many kinsmen of Joachim and Anna gathered in Jerusalem to take part in this event, at which the invisible angels of God were also present. Leading the procession into the Temple were virgins with lighted tapers in their hands, then the Most-holy Virgin, led on one side by her father and on the other side by her mother. The virgin was clad in vesture of royal magnificence and adornments as was befitting the ``King's daughter, the Bride of God'' (Psalm 45:13-15). Following them were many kinsmen and friends, all with lighted tapers. Fifteen steps led up to the Temple. Joachim and Anna lifted the Virgin onto the first step, then she ran quickly to the top herself, where she was met by the High Priest Zacharias, who was to be the father of St. John the Forerunner. Taking her by the hand, he led her not only into the Temple, but into the ``Holy of Holies,'' the holiest of holy places, into which no one but the high priest ever entered, and only once each year, at that. St. Theophylact of Ohrid says that Zacharias ``was outside himself and possessed by God'' when he led the Virgin into the holiest place in the Temple, beyond the second curtain-otherwise, his action could not be explained. Mary's parents then offered sacrifice to God according to the Law, received the priest's blessing and returned home. The Most-holy Virgin remained in the Temple and dwelt there for nine full years. While her parents were alive, they visited her often, especially Righteous Anna. When God called her parents from this world, the Most-holy Virgin was left an orphan and did not wish to leave the Temple until death or to enter into marriage. As that would have been against the Law and custom of Israel, she was given to St. Joseph, her kinsman in Nazareth, after reaching the age of twelve. Under the acceptable role of one betrothed, she could live in virginity and thus fulfill her desire and formally satisfy the Law, for it was then unknown in Israel for maidens to vow virginity to the end of their lives. The Most-holy Virgin Mary was the first of such life-vowed virgins, of the thousands and thousands of virgin men and women who would follow her in the Church of Christ."
(St. Nikolai Velimirovch - Prologue of Ochrid, taken from:

Detail from the Entrance of the Holy Theotokos into the Temple: Panagia and St. Zacharias (Icon courtesy of used with permission)

"And the priest received her [the Theotokos], and kissed her, and blessed her, saying, "The Lord has magnified your name in all generations. In you, on the last days, the Lord will manifest his redemption to the children of Israel". And he sat her on the third step of the altar, and the Lord God sent grace upon her; and she danced with her feet, and all the house of Israel loved her."
The Protoevangelium of James. Section 17
(translated by Fr. Ephraim Lash:

For a homily by St. Gregory Palamas on the Entrance of the Theotokos to the Temple, see:

Detail from the Entrance of the Holy Theotokos into the Temple: Panagia being fed by the angels (Icon courtesy of used with permission)

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
Today is the prelude of God’s good pleasure, and the proclamation of humanity’s salvation. In the temple of God, the Virgin is presented openly, and in herself she announces Christ to all. Let us, then, with a great voice cry aloud to her: “Rejoice, you are the fulfillment of the Creator’s dispensation.”

Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
The Saviorʹs most pure and immaculate temple, the very precious bridal chamber and Virgin, who is the sacred treasure of the glory of God, on this day is introduced into the House of the Lord, and with herself she brings the grace in the divine Spirit. She is extolled by the Angels of God. A heavenly tabernacle is she.

Seeing the grace of God’s ineffable and divine mysteries evident and manifestly fulfilled in the Virgin, I rejoice; and I am at a loss to understand the ineffable and strange manner in which the immaculate Maid alone proved to be chosen above all creation visible and invisible. Therefore, wishing to extol her, I am greatly perplexed in mind and speech. Nevertheless I dare to do it, and I proclaim and magnify: A heavenly tabernacle is she.
Most-Holy Theotokos, save us! Amen!