Ezekiel 12-14; Psalms 129, 130; Proverbs 28:6·11; 3 John
1 Timothy 1:1-7 Mark 8:11-21
God is Wonderful in His Saints Orthodox Saints commemorated in December December 1 Holy Prophet Nahum (7th c. BC) He was a Galilean of the tribe of Simeon. The Old Testament book that bears his name foretells the destruction of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, by the Medes, and the restoration of the Kingdom of Judah; all of this came to pass. Nahum is counted as the seventh of the Minor Prophets. He reposed in peace. His name means 'consolation' or 'repose.' Five of the Prophets (Nahum, Habbakuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, and Daniel) are commemorated in December. At one time a Feast of the Twelve Prophets was celebrated on December 4 at the Church of the Resurrection, but this feast is no longer on the calendar. The days leading up to Christ's Nativity contain many commemorations of the faithful remnant of Israel, all of whose hopes were fulfilled in the birth of the Messiah. Saint Philaret the Merciful of Constantinople (762) He was a wealthy landed gentleman who lived in the countryside near Constantinople during the reign of the Empress Irene. God had given him great wealth and a large family with which to enjoy his later years in contentment. A true lover of God, he gave without hesitation to all the poor and needy who came to him, and freely offered hospitality to every traveler passing through his lands. But his fortunes changed dramatically, and after a series of disasters he was reduced to poverty, with only a small piece of land, a pair of oxen, a donkey, a horse, a cow and a calf and a few beehives to sustain himself and his family. Without complaint, he took up the life of a simple farmer, laboring to support his family with his few means. His reduced fortunes in no way changed his open-handed character; and when he met a peasant lamenting the death of his two oxen, he immediately gave him his own, leaving himself no way to till his field. When his wife and children expressed their dismay, he answered with Christ's words, 'Do not be anxious for your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink... but seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.' He asked his wife and children to be patient, for soon they would see a treasure that he was keeping hidden. Continuing in every way as generous as he had been when wealthy, he had soon given away his horse, then his cow and calf, then his donkey (with a load of grain it was carrying at the time), to the few people he met who were poorer than himself. Without any means of feeding himself or his family, he received a generous gift of provisions from a wealthy friend; he divided the gift among his family members, then gave his own portion to the poor. He then gave away his beehives, and finally the coat from his back to a beggar who asked him for food. Thus he was left completely stripped of possessions, depending only on God to care for himself and his family. At that time, emissaries from the Court of Constantinople passed through the neighborhood, sent out to seek a fair maiden of good family to be considered as a bride for the young Emperor Constantine VI. Philaret received them in his once-splendid house and, impressed by his virtues and those of his family, they asked two of his grand-daughters to return to the Court with them. There, the two ladies' physical and spiritual beauty shone so brightly that one of them was wed to the Emperor, the other to one of his chief courtiers. The Emperor summoned Philaret and the rest of his family to the Palace, where he appointed Philaret Consul and gave him greater riches than he had possessed in former days. The Saint, restored to prosperity, continued in generosity as before: His first act was to give a lavish feast to which he invited the poor, old and disabled of the City. He then spent his days walking the streets of the City, distributing alms to the poor, giving to all who asked with no consideration of the merits of their case. (He brought with him a servant who carried three bags of coins: one of gold, one of silver, and one of copper. When he met a needy person, the Saint reached at random into a bag and gave him a handful of coins, thus letting God decide the size of the gift). When the Saint drew near to death, he gathered his family and urged them to distribute all the remainder of his wealth to the needy. 'My children, do not forget hospitality; visit those who are sick or in prison, watch over widows and orphans; see to the burial of those who die in poverty; do not covet the goods of others; speak no ill of anyone, and do not be glad of misfortunes that befall your enemies; always do as you have seen me do in my life, so that God will keep you under His protection.' Then, his face shining with joy, he gave up his soul to God. Our Venerable Father Eligius (Eloi), Bishop of Noyon (660) He was born to a Christian family near Limoges in Gaul (modern-day France) in 588. He became a goldsmith, worked for the royal mint, and in time became a trusted counselor of King Chlothar II. Despite (or because of) the honors and riches that surrounded him, Eligius came to despise all of them and gave away all his property but what he considered essential for everyday life. He devoted all his income to almsgiving and to ransoming prisoners of all nationalities from the slave markets. Many of these became his attendants and disciples in gratitude. Eligius' compassion became so well-known that when visitors asked for directions to his house, they would be told, 'Look for the house surrounded by a crowd of beggars. That is where Lord Eligius lives.' The Saint washed the feet of the poor who came to him, served them at his own table and fed himself on what they left. If he ran out of money, he would give away furniture or even his clothing. When King Chlothar died in 629, Eligius became the counselor of his successor King Dagobert I. He founded monasteries for men at Solignac and for women in Paris, telling the King, 'These are the ladders by which we will both be able to climb up to the Kingdom of Heaven.' As a royal counselor he helped to re-establish peace between France and Brittany, and improved the law of the kingdom to make it more just. When Dagobert died in 639, Eligius devoted himself entirely to the service of God as Bishop of Noyon in Flanders. His diocese was still mostly pagan, and Eligius traveled untiringly to preach the Gospel of Christ, often at risk of his life. Having foreseen his approaching death, Saint Eligius reposed in peace in 660. When his tomb was opened a year later, his body was found incorrupt and gave forth a fragrant scent. December 2 Holy Prophet Habbakuk (Abbacum) (7th c. BC). He prophesied in the time of Joachim, just before the Jewish people were taken into captivity in Babylon. He himself escaped captivity, and after Jerusalem was destroyed, returned to his homeland. Once he was taking some food to his harvesters when an Angel transported him to Babylon to feed the Prophet Daniel in the lions' den, then bore him back to Judea (this is told in the full version of the book of Daniel, ch. 6 LXX). The third chapter of his prophecy is used as the Fourth Ode of the Matins Canon(the Ode is usually sung in full only in monasteries during Lent, but the eirmos of the Fourth Ode, sung in many parishes, usually refers to the Prophet). His holy relics were found through a revelation in Palestine during the reign of Theodosius the Great, and a chapel built there. His name means "Father of the Resurrection." Holy Martyr Myrope (Myropea) of Chios (251) She was born in Ephesus. At baptism, she was consecrated by her mother to serve at the shrine of St Hermione, one of the four daughters of the Apostle Philip. Many pilgrims came to be anointed with a miracle-working myrrh that flowed from St Hermione's body — and from her service at the shrine Myrope received the name by which she is known. Later, she and her mother went to the island of Chios to flee the persecution of the Emperor Decius. When the holy martyr Isidore (May 14) was beheaded, Myrope secretly recovered his body and gave it honorable burial. The governor Numerius was furious, and ordered his soldiers to find the body or themselves be beheaded. Unable to let innocent people suffer for her act, Myrope presented herself to the governor and told him where she had buried the body. At Numerius' order, the holy girl was tortured and thrown in prison. There a heavenly light illuminated her cell and St Isidore himself appeared to her with a company of angels, saying 'Peace to thee, Myrope: thy prayer has ascended to God, and thou shalt soon be with us and receive the crown prepared for thee.' Myrope, filled with joy, gave up her soul to God at that moment. One of the guards who had witnessed these events believed in Christ, and not long afterward was baptized and received a martyr's death. Our Holy Father Athanasius "the Resurrected," Recluse of the Kiev Caves (1176) After many years of ascetic struggle, Athanasius died and was prepared for burial. After lying dead for two full days, he inexplicably came back to life: the monks who came to bury him were astonished to find him sitting up and weeping. The brethren gathered around him and asked him many questions about what he had seen of the next world, but he would only answer 'Save yourselves!' When they pressed him further, he said 'If I told you, you would not believe me or want to listen to me.' His final reply was 'Repent every moment, and pray to the Lord Jesus Christ and to His most pure Mother.' He then shut himself in his cell and lived another twelve years, taking only bread and water and never speaking again to anyone. Saint (Stephen) Uroš, King of Serbia (1367) "The son of King Dušan, he ruled during the difficult time of the fall of the Kindom of Serbia. Humble, pious and gentle, he refused to attempt to restrain the power of the powerful nobles by force. Amongst these was Vukašin, who brought about his death. Good King Uroš suffered a martyr's death on December 2nd, 1367, at the age of thirty-one. Killed by men, he was glorified by God. His wonderworking relics were preserved in the monastery of Jazak in the Fruška Gora, whence they were taken to Belgrade in 1942, during the Second World War, and placed in the Cathedral beside the bodies of Prince Lazar and Despot Stephen Štiljanovic. During the reign of this benevolent king, the monastery of St Nahum was built beside Lake Ochrid by one of Uroš's nobles, Grgur." (Prologue) Saint Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia (1991) (Nov. 19 OC) One of the true God-bearing Elders of our own time, he was glorified by the Church in 2013. A biographical sketch can be found on the main page of this site. December 3 Holy Prophet Zephaniah (Sophonias) (7th c. BC) He is ranked ninth among the Minor Prophets. He lived in Jerusalem in the reign of King Josiah (640-609), and according to some was the great-grandson of King Hezekiah. His name means "The Lord Protects" or "The Lord's watch-post." Our Venerable Father John the Silent, Bishop of Colonia (558) He was born into a Christian family at Nikopolis in Armenia. When he was eighteen his parents died, and with twelve other young men he established a small monastery. After a few years, much against his will he was made Bishop of Colonia, but he continued to live the ascetic life of a monk. After nine years of service as bishop, discouraged by the worldliness and intrigue around him, he secretly left for Jerusalem to live as a monk. He was divinely guided to the monastery of St Sabas, who received him and, knowing nothing of his rank, assigned him a lowly place among the new monks. Saint John cheerfully undertook whatever task was given to him and served the other monks in humility and silence. After completing his novitiate he was given a cell where he lived in total silence, fasting five days a week. On Saturdays and Sundays he joined the brethren for prayer, Communion and meals; but even at these times the other monks were edified by his silence and unceasing compunction. Saint Sabas desired to make him a priest and took him to be ordained by the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Saint John asked the Patriarch for a private meeting and explained that he could not be ordained because he was already a bishop. The Patriarch returned St John to St Sabas, telling him only that it was impossible for him to ordain John, who should be allowed to live in silence and solitude. Saint Sabas was perplexed (thinking that some sin prevented the monk from being ordained), but soon received a revelation of John's true rank. After many years of reclusion, St John withdrew further to a cave in the desert for nine years. He became known as a divinely-enlightened counselor and a wonderworker, and cheerfully received all who came to him for guidance or prayer. In 509 he returned to the monastery, where he lived as an anchorite in his cell, communicating with the world only through one of his disciples. For many years he lived only on thin porridge, into which he would mix ashes. One day a disciple saw him pouring ashes into his food, and John abandoned the practice, not wanting to be known for the practice of any virtue. Once he asked God for a sign revealing whether he would be granted to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Taking a fig-seed, he placed it on a bare rock outside his cell. Without soil or water, the seed brought forth a plant, put forth leaves and flowers, and produced three figs, which St John shared with his disciples. The Saint then made ready for death. He reposed in peace, at the age of 104. December 4 † Holy Great Martyr Barbara (290) 'Saint Barbara was from Heliopolis of Phoenicia and lived during the reign of Maximian. She was the daughter of a certain idolater named Dioscorus. When Barbara came of age, she was enlightened in her pure heart and secretly believed in the Holy Trinity. About this time Dioscorus began building a bath-house; before it was finished he was required to go away to attend to certain matters, and in his absence Barbara directed the workmen to build a third window in addition to the two her father had commanded. She also inscribed the sign of the Cross with her finger upon the marble of the bath-house, leaving the saving sign cut as deeply into the marble as if it had been done with an iron tool. When the Synaxarion of Saint Barbara was written, the marble of the bath-house and the cross inscribed by Saint Barbara were still preserved, and many healings were worked there. When Dioscorus returned, he asked why the third window had been added; Barbara began to declare to him the mystery of the Trinity. Because she refused to renounce her faith, Dioscorus tortured Barbara inhumanly, and after subjecting her to many sufferings he beheaded her with his own hands, in the year 290.' (Great Horologion) † Our Righteous Father John of Damascus (760) This divinely-enlightened Harp of the Spirit was at the same time one of the Church's greatest hymnographers and one of Her greatest theologians and defenders of the Faith. The city of Damascus in Syria fell to the Muslims in 635. At the time of the Caliph Abdul-Malik, responsibility for government of the Christian population was given to Sergius Mansur, a prominent Christian of the city. This Sergius strove to govern in a godly way under the many disabilities imposed by the Caliph, and devoted his wealth to almsgiving and to ransoming Christian prisoners. His son John was born in 675, and along with his adoptive brother Cosmas (October 14) was brought up to love and serve Christ. John, whose exceptional education included a perfect knowledge of both Greek and Arabic, entered the civil administration and eventually succeeded to his father's position under the Caliph. When the Emperor Leo the Isaurian began to attack the holy icons, Saint John undertook a spirited defense of the Faith through letters to correspondents throughout the Empire. Normally the Emperor would have killed or exiled the Saint directly, but since he lived in Muslim lands the Emperor could not touch him (an interesting example of Islam unwittingly contributing to the defense of the Christian faith). So the wicked Emperor circulated a forged letter which made it appear that John was plotting against the Caliph. When this letter fell (as planned) into the Caliph's hands, he was furious, and ordered that the Saint's right hand be cut off. That evening John placed his severed hand before the icon of the Mother of God and prayed with tears that it might be restored. On awaking he found that his hand had been miraculously restored to him. The miracle convinced the Caliph of his counselor's innocence, and John was restored to favor; but now John wanted nothing more of worldly honor and wished only to be a monk. Giving up his position, he distributed his fortune among the poor and left for Jerusalem to become a monk at the Monastery of St Sabas. The Abbot of the monastery put John under an Elder who ordered him to have nothing to do with philosophy, science, poetry, chanting or reading, but to give himself uncomplainingly to menial tasks so as to advance in humility. This the Saint did. Some time later, however, a monk grieving over his brother's death persuaded John to write a funeral hymn for his consolation. Out of compassion, John wrote the hymn which is used to this day in the Funeral Service. For his disobedience, John was given the job of cleaning all the latrines of the monastery by hand, which, again, he did without complaint. A few days later the Theotokos appeared to the Elder and told him to allow John to compose hymns and poems, which, she told, him, would surpass the Psalms of David in beauty and grace. Thus the monk John began to write the large body of inspired hymns which grace the Church's services. Among these are the Canon chanted at the Pascha Service, as well as most of the Resurrectional hymns of the Octoechos. Saint John's poetical gifts were matched by his gifts for expressing the Church's theology: he composed a powerful defense of the icons (in print under the title On the Holy Images), a complete exposition of the Orthodox Faith (On the Orthodox Faith), and the first written refutation of Islam, which he had come to understand well while serving in the Caliph's court. In old age, John was ordained a priest by the Patriarch of Jerusalem. He reposed in peace in 760 at the age of eighty-four. Saint Gennadius, Archbishop of Novgorod (1505) He was of noble birth, but entered monastic life at Valaam. He lived as a hermit on the island of Solovki from 1430 until 1447, when he was appointed abbot of the Chudov Monastery in Moscow. In 1484 he became Bishop of Novgorod. He found that the Tatar invasions had so disrupted the Church that a complete text of the Holy Scriptures could hardly be found in all of Russia. He ordered and oversaw the publication of the first printed Slavonic edition of the Holy Scriptures, set up schools for the instruction of the clergy, re-established order in the divine services, and fought various heresies. His devotion earned him enemies, and he resigned his episcopate to withdraw once again to a monastery. He reposed in peace in 1505. December 5 † Our Venerable, Godbearing Father Sabbas the Sanctified (533) "This Saint was born in 439 in Moutalaska, a small village of Cappadocia. He entered the arena of the monastic life from childhood and was under that master trainer of monastics, Euthymius the Great, the teacher of the desert. He became the spiritual father of many monks and an instructor for the monasteries in Palestine, and was appointed leader (archimandrite) of the desert-dwellers of Palestine by the Patriarch of Jerusalem. In his old age he went to Constantinople, to the Emperors Anastasius and Saint Justinian the Great, in behalf of the Orthodox Faith and the dogmas of the Council of Chalcedon. Having lived ninety-four years, he reposed in 533. The Typicon for the ecclesiastical services had its beginning in the monastery established by this righteous one." (Great Horologion) St Cosmas the Protos of Mount Athos and his companions (~1274) "Determined to impose the union of the Churches accepted under pressure at the Council of Lyon (1274) to secure Papal support for the Byzantine Empire, Michael VIII Palaeologos sent troops to Mount Athos, the stronghold of Orthodoxy and centre of opposition to his policy, with orders to take sanguinary measures against monks who would not recognize the false union. "When the Emperor's soldiers reached Karyes, the capital of Athos, which was organized as a lavra in those days, they seized the Protos of Athos, who had been an example to all of what a steadfast monk should be. They put him to the sword together with many other fathers there, and in their fury ransacked and fired the Church and monastic buildings, leaving rack and ruin behind them. Emerging from the wild places and thick forests where they had taken refuge, the Orthodox monks buried the holy Martyrs at the entrance to the Church of the Protaton. Through the centuries, generations of monks piously lit the lamp each day above the 'tomb of the Protos'; but it was not until 5 December 1981 that his relics were solemnly taken from the earth, and that a service was held in his honour in the presence of a great crowd." (Synaxarion) December 6 † Our Father among the Saints Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra (345) Our beloved holy Father Nicholas is, along with St George (and second to the All-holy Theotokos), probably the best-loved Saint of the Church. His numberless miracles through the ages, on behalf of the countless Christians who have called on him, cannot be told. He was born in Lycia (in Asia Minor) around the end of the third century, to pious Christian parents. His love of virtue, and his zeal for observing the canons of the Church, were evident from his infancy, when he would abstain from his mother's breast every Wednesday and Friday until the evening. From early youth he was inclined to solitude and silence; in fact, not a single written or spoken word of the Saint has come down to us. Though ordained a priest by his uncle, Archbishop Nicholas, he attempted to withdraw to a hermit's life in the Holy Land; but he was told by revelation that he was to return home to serve the Church publicly and be the salvation of many souls. When his parents died, he gave away all of his inheritance to the needy, and thereafter almsgiving was his greatest glory. He always took particular care that his charity be done in secret. Perhaps the most famous story of his open-handedness concerns a debt-ridden man who had no money to provide dowries for his daughters, or even to support them, and in despair had resolved to give them into prostitution. On three successive nights the Saint threw a bag of gold into the window of the man's house, saving him and his daughters from sin and hopelessness. The man searched relentlessly to find and thank his benefactor; when at last he discovered that it was Nicholas, the Saint made him promise not to reveal the good deed until after he had died. (This story may be the thin thread that connects the Saint with the modern-day Santa Claus). God honored his faithfulness by granting him unparalleled gifts of healing and wonderworking. Several times he calmed storms by his prayers and saved the ship that he was sailing in. Through the centuries he has often done the same for sailors who call out to him, and is considered the patron of sailors and all who go to sea. He was elected Bishop of Myra not long before the great persecutions under Diocletian and Maximian (c. 305), and was put in prison, from which he continued to encourage his flock in the Faith. When the Arian heresy wracked the Church not long after Constantine came to the throne, St Nicholas was one of the 318 Bishops who gathered in Nicea in 325. There he was so incensed at the blasphemies of Arius that he struck him on the face. This put the other bishops in a quandary, since the canons require that any hierarch who strikes anyone must be deposed. Sadly, they prepared to depose the holy Nicholas; but in the night the Lord Jesus and the most Holy Theotokos appeared to them, telling them that the Saint had acted solely out of love for Truth, not from hatred or passion, and that they should not act against him. While still in the flesh, he sometimes miraculously appeared in distant places to save the lives of the faithful. He once saved the city of Myra from famine by appearing to the captain of a ship full of grain, telling him to take his cargo to the city. He appeared in a dream to Constantine to intercede for the lives of three Roman officers who had been falsely condemned; the three grateful soldiers later became monks. The holy bishop reposed in peace around 345. His holy relics were placed in a church built in his honor in Myra, where they were venerated by throngs of pilgrims every year. In 1087, after Myra was conquered by the Saracens, the Saint's relics were translated to Bari in southern Italy, where they are venerated today. Every year, quantities of fragrant myrrh are gathered from the casket containing his holy relics. New Martyr Nicolas Karamos of Smyrna (1657) He was a Christian living in Smyrna under Ottoman rule. One day he lost his temper in an argument and exclaimed that he would "turn Turk" before he would give way in the dispute. Immediately, some Turks watching the argument seized Nicolas and brought him before the judge to honor his promise. Nicolas, who had come to his senses, declared 'If it please God, I will never deny my Lord Jesus Christ, the true God who will come to judge the living and the dead.' The judge had the humble confessor flogged and tortured through thirty-six days, but he remained firm in his confession of Christ, despite even the tears of his mother and his wife. Finally, the judge had him hanged on March 19 1657. His torments and faithfulness were seen by some Western visitors; so moved were they that they recovered his body from the sea (where it had been cast after hanging) and took it to Europe. St Maximus, Metropolitan of Kiev & Vladimir (1305) He was one of the bold Confessors who opposed the false Union of Lyons perpetrated by the Emperor Michael VIII in 1274. In 1283 he became Metropolitan of Kiev (and thus of the whole Russian Church). At that time the Principality of Kiev had been reduced to ruins by the Tatar invaders. Saint Maximus received a revelation from God that he should transfer the metropolitanate from Kiev to Vladimir. On the night following the move to Vladimir, the Most Holy Theotokos appeared to the Saint, saying 'You have done well, Maximus my servant, in coming to live in my city!' She then put a mantle on his shoulders which he found when he awoke. Saint Maximus reposed in peace in 1305. His body, interred in the Cathedral of Vladimir, was found to be incorrupt in the nineteenth century. December 7 Our Father among the Saints Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (397) This illustrious light of Orthodoxy in the Western Church was born in Gaul in 349, but his widowed mother took the family to Rome while he was still a small child. Brilliant and well-educated, he was made a provincial Governor in 375 and took up residence in Milan. In those days, the Arian heresy was still dividing the Church, despite its repudiation at the Council of Nicaea in 325. When the time came to elect a new Bishop in Milan, the Orthodox and Arian parties were so divided that they could come to no agreement on a new Bishop. When Ambrose came as Governor to try to restore peace and order, a young child, divinely inspired, called out "Ambrose, Bishop!" To Ambrose's amazement, the people took up the cry, and Ambrose himself was elected, though he tried to refuse, protesting that he was only a catechumen (it was still common in those days to delay Holy Baptism for fear of polluting it by sin). He even attempted to flee, but his horse brought him back to the city. Resigning himself to God's will, he was baptized and, only a week later, elevated to Bishop. Immediately, he renounced all possessions, distributed all of his money to the poor and gave his estates to the Church. Straightaway, he entered into a spirited defense of Orthodoxy in his preaching and writings to the dismay of the Arians who had supported his election. Soon he persuaded Gratian, Emperor of the West, to call the Council of Aquilea, which brought an end to Arianism in the Western Church. (Arianism, however, continued to prosper among the barbarian nations for many years; see the Martyrs of Africa, also commemorated today). Several times the holy Bishop was called upon to defend the Church against domination by the secular powers. Once, putting down an uprising in Thessalonika, the Emperor Theodosius punished the city by ordering the massacre of thousands of its residents. When the Emperor later visited Milan and came to the Cathedral to attend the Liturgy, Saint Ambrose stopped him at the door, condemned his crime before all the people, forbade him entrance to the church and excommunicated him for eight months. The Emperor went away weeping, and submitted in humility to the Church's discipline. When he returned after long penance to be restored to Communion, he went into the sanctuary along with the clergy, as had been the custom of the Emperors since Constantine the Great. But again the holy Ambrose humbled him in the sight of all the people, saying "Get out and take your place among the laity; the purple does not make priests, but only emperors." Theodosius left without protest, took his place among the penitents, and never again attempted to enter the sanctuary of a church. (When the Emperor died, it was Bishop Ambrose who preached his funeral eulogy). Saint Ambrose, by teaching, preaching and writing, brought countless pagans to the Faith. His most famous convert was St Augustine (June 15), who became his disciple and eventually a bishop. Ambrose's many theological and catechetical works helped greatly to spread the teaching of the Greek fathers in the Latin world. He wrote many glorious antiphonal hymns which were once some of the gems of the Latin services. Saint Ambrose reposed in peace in 397; his relics still rest in the basilica in Milan. The Martyrs of Africa, who suffered during the Vandal persecution (429 and following) In the year 429, Eighty thousand Vandals crossed from Spain into Africa and, in the course of ten years of massacre and pillage, gained control of most of the Roman territories of North Africa. Many people picture these barbarians as pagans, but they were in fact Arian heretics, who under their leader Genseric began a fierce persecution of the Church wherever they encountered it. The tortures that many thousands endured in their confession of the Faith are too horrible to describe here; the clergy were singled out for special cruelty. Today we especially commemorate the Orthodox faithful whom the Vandals burned to death in their church, who went on singing hymns and praising God until the moment of their death. We also commemorate the three hundred Martyrs in Carthage who died by the sword rather than submit to Arian baptism. The death of Genseric in 454 brought little relief, for after a short hiatus his successors Huneric (477-484) and Gonthamund (484-497) continued the persecution as viciously as before. Christian Africa lived under the Vandal yoke for almost 100 years: freedom from persecution was not secure until Justinian's forces overcame and drove off the Vandals in 523-525. The African Church, once a beacon of Christianity, never recovered its former vitality. Our Venerable Father Antony of Siya (1556) Saint Anthony is one of the holy protectors of iconographers. He was born in 1477 in a Russian village near Archangel. From an early age he devoted himself to reading sacred books and making icons. When his parents died, he entered the service of a wealthy lord in Novgorod, and later married the lord's daughter. But less than a year after his marriage he was widowed. Despairing of earthly consolations, he gave his wealth to the poor and, owning only the clothes that he wore, went to become a monk at the Monastery of St Pachomius. There he excelled in prayer, vigil and ascesis, praying for most of the night, taking on the heaviest work by day, and eating only every second day. After a short time he was ordained to the priesthood. Some years later he and two companions, seeking a more secluded life for prayer, traveled to the frigid shores of the White Sea and established a small monastic brotherhood where the River Siya enters Lake Mikhailov. They lived in utter poverty, staying alive by gathering mushrooms and wild berries. Many times they heard the sound of bells, though there was no church or habitation anywhere nearby. In time other brethren were attracted to the site, and a monastery was founded with the help of the Grand Prince of Moscow. When the monastery church burned down, an icon of the Holy Trinity painted by St Antony miraculously survived unscathed, and later worked many miracles. The Saint himself withdrew into the forests, living alone for many years until he was called back by his spiritual children to serve as the monastery's abbot. Having foreseen his own end, he reposed in peace in 1556. He asked that his body be thrown into the lake, but his disciples, obedient in every other way, did not fulfil his request. His tomb was the source of many miracles in the coming years. December 8 Our Venerable Father Patapius (6th or 7th c.) He was born at Thebes in Egypt, and at a young age left his pious parents, his inheritance and his acquaintances to dwell in the Egyptian desert, devoting himself to ceaseless prayer. After many years, he reputation spread and, despite his desire for solitude, throngs of pilgrims would seek him out for his prayers and counsel. To escape the attentions of men, he did a surprising thing: he abandoned the desert and moved to Constantinople, settling in the Blachernae district, where, amid the bustle of the city, he was able to pass unnoticed, more secure in his solitude than he had been in the caves of Egypt. As he grew in obedience to the commandments of Christ, the grace of working miracles grew in him, and once again he gradually became known. Once a blind man cast himself before Patapius on the street, and the Saint cured him instantly by calling on the name of Christ. Once he healed a man crippled by dropsy, anointing him with the oil from a vigil lamp and signing him with the Cross. After blessing the Church for many years with his prayers and miracles, St Patapius fell asleep in peace, and was buried in the church of the Monastery of the Egyptians near Constantinople. In 1904 his precious and incorrupt relics were uncovered in the course of some building at a small monastery near Corinth. From that time the monastery has been dedicated to St Patapius, and many miracles are worked there. Holy Apostles Sosthenes, Apollos, Tychicus and Epaphroditus, Cephas and Caesar All of these Apostles are mentioned in the New Testament. Sosthenes was the ruler of the Synagogue in Corinth, and was converted through the preaching of St Paul. After traveling with St Paul for years, he became Bishop of Colophon near Ephesus. Apollos was a Jew from Alexandria, well educated and with a deep knowledge of the Scriptures. He was brought to the fulness of the Christian faith by Priscilla and Aquila in Ephesus, and went out preaching the Gospel among the pagans. His eloquence was so admired that for awhile the gentile Church divided into two factions, one for Paul and one for Apollos. Saint Apollos later became Bishop of Caesarea. (The Synaxarion lists Cephas and Caesar here; but some believe that St Paul's reference to Cephas in 1 Cor 1:12 refers to the Apostle Peter, not to a separate companion of St Paul; and that "those of Caesar's household" (Phil. 4:22) refers to Christians in the Emperor's palace in Rome, not to a Christian named Caesar.) December 9 † The Conception of the Most Holy Mother of God "In accordance with the eternal purpose of God, who willed to prepare a most pure habitation for Himself in order to take flesh and dwell among men, Joachim and Anna were prevented from having children for many years. Their barren old age was symbolic of human nature itself, bowed down and dried up under the weight of sin and death, yet they never ceased begging God to take away their reproach. Now when the time of preparation determined by the Lord had been fulfilled, God sent an Angel to Joachim in solitude on a mountain, and to Anna in her affliction weeping in her garden, to tell them that the ancient prophecies were soon to be fulfilled in them: a child would be born to them, who was destined to become the veritable Ark of the new Covenant, the divine Ladder, the unburnt Bush, the living Temple where the Word of God would take up his abode. Through the conception of Saint Anna, the barrenness of human nature itself, separated from God by death, has on this day been brought to an end; and by the wondrous birth-giving of her who had remained childless until the age when women can no longer bear fruit, God announced and testified to the more astonishing miracle of the Conception without seed, and of the immaculate coming to birth of Christ within the heart and the womb of the Most Holy Virgin and Mother of God. "Even though the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary took place through a miraculous action of God, she was conceived by the union of man and woman in accordance with the laws of our human nature, which has fallen through Adam's transgression and become subject to sin and corruption (cf. Gen. 3:16). As the chosen Vessel and precious Shrine prepared by God since the beginning of time, she is indeed the most pure and the most perfect of mankind, but even so, she has not been set apart from our common inheritance nor from the consequences of the sin of our first parents. Just as it was fitting that Christ, in order to deliver us from death by his own voluntary death (Heb. 2:14), should by His Incarnation be made like to men in all things except sin; so it was meet that His Mother, in whose womb the Word of God would unite with human nature, should be subject to death and corruption like every child of Adam, lest we not be fully included in Salvation and Redemption. The Mother of God has been chosen and preferred among all women, not arbitrarily, but because God foresaw that she would preserve her purity and keep it perfect: conceived and born like all of us, she has been worthy to become the Mother of the Son of God and the mother of us all. So, in her tenderness and compassion, she is able to intercede for us with her Son, that He may have mercy upon us. "Just as the Lord Jesus Christ was the fruit of the virginity of the holy Mother of God, so she herself was the fruit of the chastity of Joachim and Anna. And by following the same path of chastity we too, monks and Christian married people, can bring Christ to be born and grow in us." (Synaxarion) In the Latin church, this day is called the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, reflecting the erroneous Latin view of the conception of the Holy Theotokos. "The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception proclaimed by the Roman Catholics in 1858 is rejected by the Orthodox Church, but without in any way detracting from the dignity of the Mother of God. In fact, according to the Fathers, the inheritance from Adam consists not in a personal responsibility of all men for original sin, but simply in the inheritance of the consequences of sin: death, corruption and the passions (including procreation and fleshly union). Hence the Orthodox have no difficulty in recognizing that the Mother of God was heir, like us, of all the consequences of Adam's sin — Christ alone was exempt — but at the same time pure and without personal sin, for she freely kept herself from all attraction for the world and for the passions, and she voluntarily co-operated in God's purpose by obeying His will with docility: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word, she replied to the Angel Gabriel (Luke 1:38)" (Synaxarion)
Ezekiel 8-11; Psalms 127, 128; Proverbs 28:1·5; 2 John
He was born at Thebes in Egypt, and at a young age left his pious parents, his inheritance and his acquaintances to dwell in the Egyptian desert, devoting himself to ceaseless prayer. After many years, he reputation spread and, despite his desire for solitude, throngs of pilgrims would seek him out for his prayers and counsel. To escape the attentions of men, he did a surprising thing: he abandoned the desert and moved to Constantinople, settling in the Blachernae district, where, amid the bustle of the city, he was able to pass unnoticed, more secure in his solitude than he had been in the caves of Egypt. As he grew in obedience to the commandments of Christ, the grace of working miracles grew in him, and once again he gradually became known. Once a blind man cast himself before Patapius on the street, and the Saint cured him instantly by calling on the name of Christ. Once he healed a man crippled by dropsy, anointing him with the oil from a vigil lamp and signing him with the Cross. After blessing the Church for many years with his prayers and miracles, St Patapius fell asleep in peace, and was buried in the church of the Monastery of the Egyptians near Constantinople. In 1904 his precious and incorrupt relics were uncovered in the course of some building at a small monastery near Corinth. From that time the monastery has been dedicated to St Patapius, and many miracles are worked there.
Ezekiel 4-7; Psalms 125, 126; Proverbs 27:25·29; 1 John 4:20-5:21
This illustrious light of Orthodoxy in the Western Church was born in Gaul in 349, but his widowed mother took the family to Rome while he was still a small child. Brilliant and well-educated, he was made a provincial Governor in 375 and took up residence in Milan. In those days, the Arian heresy was still dividing the Church, despite its repudiation at the Council of Nicaea in 325. When the time came to elect a new Bishop in Milan, the Orthodox and Arian parties were so divided that they could come to no agreement on a new Bishop. When Ambrose came as Governor to try to restore peace and order, a young child, divinely inspired, called out "Ambrose, Bishop!" To Ambrose's amazement, the people took up the cry, and Ambrose himself was elected, though he tried to refuse, protesting that he was only a catechumen (it was still common in those days to delay Holy Baptism for fear of polluting it by sin). He even attempted to flee, but his horse brought him back to the city. Resigning himself to God's will, he was baptized and, only a week later, elevated to Bishop. Immediately, he renounced all possessions, distributed all of his money to the poor and gave his estates to the Church. Straightaway, he entered into a spirited defense of Orthodoxy in his preaching and writings to the dismay of the Arians who had supported his election. Soon he persuaded Gratian, Emperor of the West, to call the Council of Aquilea, which brought an end to Arianism in the Western Church. (Arianism, however, continued to prosper among the barbarian nations for many years; see the Martyrs of Africa, also commemorated today). Several times the holy Bishop was called upon to defend the Church against domination by the secular powers. Once, putting down an uprising in Thessalonika, the Emperor Theodosius punished the city by ordering the massacre of thousands of its residents. When the Emperor later visited Milan and came to the Cathedral to attend the Liturgy, Saint Ambrose stopped him at the door, condemned his crime before all the people, forbade him entrance to the church and excommunicated him for eight months. The Emperor went away weeping, and submitted in humility to the Church's discipline. When he returned after long penance to be restored to Communion, he went into the sanctuary along with the clergy, as had been the custom of the Emperors since Constantine the Great. But again the holy Ambrose humbled him in the sight of all the people, saying "Get out and take your place among the laity; the purple does not make priests, but only emperors." Theodosius left without protest, took his place among the penitents, and never again attempted to enter the sanctuary of a church. (When the Emperor died, it was Bishop Ambrose who preached his funeral eulogy). Saint Ambrose, by teaching, preaching and writing, brought countless pagans to the Faith. His most famous convert was St Augustine (June 15), who became his disciple and eventually a bishop. Ambrose's many theological and catechetical works helped greatly to spread the teaching of the Greek fathers in the Latin world. He wrote many glorious antiphonal hymns which were once some of the gems of the Latin services. Saint Ambrose reposed in peace in 397; his relics still rest in the basilica in Milan.
Ezekiel 1-3; Psalms 123, 124; Proverbs 27:21·24; 1 John 4:1·19