St. Abercius the Bishop and Wonderworker of Hieropolis, Equal of the Apostles

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Saint Abercius, Bishop and Wonderworker of Hieropolis lived in the second century in Phrygia. The city of Hieropolis was inhabited by many pagans and very few Christians. The saint prayed to the Lord for the salvation of their souls and that they might be numbered among God’s chosen flock. An angel appeared and bade Saint Abercius to destroy the idols in the pagan temple. He fulfilled the command of God with zeal. Hearing that the idol-worshippers wanted to kill him, the saint went to the place where the people had gathered and openly denounced the failings of the pagans. The pagans tried to seize the saint.

At this moment three demon-possessed youths in the crowd cried out. The people were dumbfounded, as the saint expelled the devils from them by his prayers. Seeing the youths restored to normal, the people of Hieropolis asked Saint Abercius to instruct them in the Christian Faith, and then they accepted Holy Baptism.

After this the saint went to the surrounding cities and villages, healing the sick and preaching the Kingdom of God. With his preaching he made the rounds of Syria, Cilicia, Mesopotamia, he visited Rome and everywhere he converted multitudes of people to Christ. For many years he guarded the Church against heretics, he confirmed Christians in the Faith, he set the prodigal upon the righteous path, he healed the sick and proclaimed the glory of Christ. Because of his great works, Saint Abercius is termed “Equal of the Apostles.”

Saint Abercius returned home to Hieropolis, where he soon rested from his labors. After his death, many miracles took place at his tomb. He wrote his own epitaph, and it was carved on his tombstone, which is now in the Lateran Museum.

Glorification of St Innocent of Alaska the Enlightener of the Aleuts, Apostle to the Americas and Metropolitan of Moscow

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Glorification of Saint Innocent, Metropolitan of Moscow, Enlightener of the Aleuts and Apostle to America (in the world John Popov-Veniaminov), was born on August 26, 1797 in the village of Anginsk in the Irkutsk diocese, into the family of a sacristan. The boy mastered his studies at an early age and by age seven, he was reading the Epistle in church. In 1806 they sent him to the Irkutsk seminary. In 1814, the new rector thought it proper to change the surnames of some of the students. John Popov received the surname Veniaminov in honor of the deceased Archbishop Benjamin of Irkutsk (+ July 8, 1814). On May 13, 1817 he was ordained deacon for the Irkutsk Annunciation church, and on May 18, 1821, he was ordained priest.

The missionary service of the future Apostle of America and Siberia began with the year 1823. Father John spent 45 years laboring for the enlightenment of the peoples of Kamchatka, the Aleutian Islands, North America, Yakutsk, the Khabarov frontier, performing his apostolic exploit in severe conditions and at great risks to life. Saint Innocent baptized ten thousand people, and built churches, beside which he founded schools and he himself taught the fundamentals of the Christian life. His knowledge of various crafts and arts aided him in his work.

Father John was a remarkable preacher. During the celebration of the Liturgy, memorial services and the all-night Vigil, he incessantly guided his flock. During his time of endless travels, Father John studied the languages, customs and habits of the peoples, among whom he preached. His work in geography, ethnography and linguistics received worldwide acclaim. He composed an alphabet and grammar for the Aleut language and translated the Catechism, the Gospel and many prayers into that language. One of the finest of his works was the Indication of the Way into the Kingdom of Heaven (1833), translated into the various languages of the peoples of Siberia and appearing in more than 40 editions. Thanks to the toil of Father John, the Yakut people in 1859 first heard the Word of God and divine services in their own native language.

On November 29, 1840, after the death of his wife, Father John was tonsured a monk with the name Innocent by Saint Philaret, the Metropolitan of Moscow, in honor of Saint Innocent of Irkutsk. On December 15, Archimandrite Innocent was consecrated Bishop of Kamchatka, the Kurile and Aleutian Islands. On April 21, 1850 Bishop Innocent was elevated to the rank of archbishop.

By the Providence of God on January 5, 1868, Saint Innocent succeeded Metropolitan Philaret on the Moscow cathedra. Through the Holy Synod, Metropolitan Innocent consolidated the secular missionary efforts of the Russian Church (already in 1839 he had proposed a project for improving the organization of missionary service).

Under the care of Metropolitan Innocent a Missionary Society was created, and the Protection monastery was reorganized for missionary work. In 1870 the Japanese Orthodox Spiritual Mission headed by Archimandrite Nicholas Kasatkin (afterwards Saint Nicholas of Japan, (February 3) was set up, to whom Saint innocent had shared much of his own spiritual experience. The guidance by Saint Innocent of the Moscow diocese was also fruitful, by his efforts, the church of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos was built up into the Moscow Spiritual Academy.

Saint Innocent fell asleep in the Lord on March 31, 1879, on Holy Saturday, and was buried at the Holy Spirit Church of the Trinity-Saint Sergius Lavra. On October 6, 1977, Saint Innocent was glorified by the Russian Orthodox Church. His memory is celebrated three times during the year: on March 31, the day of his blessed repose, on October 5 (Synaxis of the Moscow Hierarchs), and on October 6, the day of his glorification.

The Protection of our Most Holy Lady the Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary

pokrova_1The Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos: “Today the Virgin stands in the midst of the Church, and with choirs of Saints she invisibly prays to God for us. Angels and Bishops venerate Her, Apostles and prophets rejoice together, Since for our sake she prays to the Eternal God!”

This miraculous appearance of the Mother of God occurred in the mid-tenth century in Constantinople, in the Blachernae church where her robe, veil, and part of her belt were preserved after being transferred from Palestine in the fifth century.

On Sunday, October 1, during the All Night Vigil, when the church was overflowing with those at prayer, the Fool-for-Christ Saint Andrew (October 2), at the fourth hour, lifted up his eyes towards the heavens and beheld our most Holy Lady Theotokos coming through the air, resplendent with heavenly light and surrounded by an assembly of the Saints. Saint John the Baptist and the holy Apostle John the Theologian accompanied the Queen of Heaven. On bended knees the Most Holy Virgin tearfully prayed for Christians for a long time. Then, coming near the Bishop’s Throne, she continued her prayer.

After completing her prayer she took her veil and spread it over the people praying in church, protecting them from enemies both visible and invisible. The Most Holy Lady Theotokos was resplendent with heavenly glory, and the protecting veil in her hands gleamed “more than the rays of the sun.” Saint Andrew gazed trembling at the miraculous vision and he asked his disciple, the blessed Epiphanius standing beside him, “Do you see, brother, the Holy Theotokos, praying for all the world?” Epiphanius answered, “I do see, holy Father, and I am in awe.”

The Ever-Blessed Mother of God implored the Lord Jesus Christ to accept the prayers of all the people calling on His Most Holy Name, and to respond speedily to her intercession, “O Heavenly King, accept all those who pray to You and call on my name for help. Do not let them go away from my icon unheard.”

Saints Andrew and Epiphanius were worthy to see the Mother of God at prayer, and “for a long time observed the Protecting Veil spread over the people and shining with flashes of glory. As long as the Most Holy Theotokos was there, the Protecting Veil was also visible, but with her departure it also became invisible. After taking it with her, she left behind the grace of her visitation.”

At the Blachernae church, the memory of the miraculous appearance of the Mother of God was remembered. In the fourteenth century, the Russian pilgrim and clerk Alexander, saw in the church an icon of the Most Holy Theotokos praying for the world, depicting Saint Andrew in contemplation of her.

The Primary Chronicle of Saint Nestor reflects that the protective intercession of the Mother of God was needed because an attack of a large pagan Russian fleet under the leadership of Askole and Dir. The feast celebrates the divine destruction of the fleet which threatened Constantinople itself, sometime in the years 864-867 or according to the Russian historian Vasiliev, on June 18, 860. Ironically, this Feast is considered important by the Slavic Churches but not by the Greeks.

The Primary Chronicle of Saint Nestor also notes the miraculous deliverance followed an all-night Vigil and the dipping of the garment of the Mother of God into the waters of the sea at the Blachernae church, but does not mention Saints Andrew and Epiphanius and their vision of the Mother of God at prayer. These latter elements, and the beginnings of the celebrating of the Feast of the Protection, seem to postdate Saint Nestor and the Chronicle. A further historical complication might be noted under (October 2) dating Saint Andrew’s death to the year 936.

The year of death might not be quite reliable, or the assertion that he survived to a ripe old age after the vision of his youth, or that his vision involved some later pagan Russian raid which met with the same fate. The suggestion that Saint Andrew was a Slav (or a Scythian according to other sources, such as S. V. Bulgakov) is interesting, but not necessarily accurate. The extent of Slavic expansion and repopulation into Greece is the topic of scholarly disputes.

In the PROLOGUE, a Russian book of the twelfth century, a description of the establishment of the special Feast marking this event states, “For when we heard, we realized how wondrous and merciful was the vision… and it transpired that Your holy Protection should not remain without festal celebration, O Ever-Blessed One!”

Therefore, in the festal celebration of the Protection of the Mother of God, the Russian Church sings, “With the choirs of the Angels, O Sovereign Lady, with the venerable and glorious prophets, with the First-Ranked Apostles and with the Hieromartyrs and Hierarchs, pray for us sinners, glorifying the Feast of your Protection in the Russian Land.” Moreover, it would seem that Saint Andrew, contemplating the miraculous vision was a Slav, was taken captive, and became the slave of the local inhabitant of Constantinople named Theognostus.

Churches in honor of the Protection of the Mother of God began to appear in Russia in the twelfth century. Widely known for its architectural merit is the temple of the Protection at Nerl, which was built in the year 1165 by holy Prince Andrew Bogoliubsky. The efforts of this holy prince also established in the Russian Church the Feast of the Protection of the Mother of God, about the year 1164.

At Novgorod in the twelfth century there was a monastery of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos (the so-called Zverin monastery) In Moscow also under Tsar Ivan the Terrible the cathedral of the Protection of the Mother of God was built at the church of the Holy Trinity (known as the church of Saint Basil the Blessed).

On the Feast of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos we implore the defense and assistance of the Queen of Heaven, “Remember us in your prayers, O Lady Virgin Mother of God, that we not perish by the increase of our sins. Protect us from every evil and from grievous woes, for in you do we hope, and venerating the Feast of your Protection, we magnify you.”

The Holy Martyrs of Alaska

The Child-martyr Peter the Aleut and the Hieromartyr Juvenal 

Saint Peter the Aleut is mentioned in the Life of Saint Herman of Alaska (December 13). Simeon Yanovsky (who ended his life as the schemamonk Sergius in the Saint Tikhon of Kaluga Monastery), has left the following account:

“On another occasion I was relating to him how the Spanish in California had imprisoned fourteen Aleuts, and how the Jesuits (actually Franciscans) were forcing all of them to accept the Catholic Faith. But the Aleuts would not agree under any circumstances, saying, ‘We are Christians.’ The Jesuits argued, ‘That’s not true, you are heretics and schismatics. If you do not agree to accept our faith then we will torture all of you to death.’ Then the Aleuts were placed in prisons two to a cell. That evening, the Jesuits came to the prison with lanterns and lighted candles. Again they tried to persuade two Aleuts in the cell to accept the Catholic Faith. ‘We are Christians,’ the Aleuts replied, ‘and we will not change our Faith.’ Then the Jesuits began to torture them, at first the one while his companion was a witness. They cut off one of the joints of his feet, and then the other joint. Then they cut the first joint on the fingers of his hands, and then the other joint. Then they cut off his feet, and his hands. The blood flowed, but the martyr endured all and firmly repeated one thing: “I am a Christian.’ He died in such suffering, due to a loss of blood. The Jesuit also promised to torture his comrade to death the next day.

But that night an order was received from Monterey stating that the imprisoned Aleuts were to be released immediately, and sent there under escort. Therefore, in the morning all were sent to Monterey with the exception of the dead Aleut. This was related to me by a witness, the same Aleut who had escaped torture, and who was the friend of the martyred Aleut. I reported this incident to the authorities in Saint Petersburg. When I finished my story, Father Herman asked, ‘What was the name of the martyred Aleut?’ I answered, ‘Peter. I do not remember his family name.’ The Elder stood reverently before an icon, made the Sign of the Cross and said, “Holy New Martyr Peter, pray to God for us!”

We know very little about Saint Peter, except that he was from Kodiak, and was arrested and put to death by the Spaniards in California because he refused to convert to Catholicism. The circumstances of his martyrdom recall the torture of Saint James the Persian (November 27).

Both in his sufferings and in his steadfast confession of the Faith, Saint Peter is the equal of the martyrs of old, and also of the New Martyrs who have shone forth in more recent times. Now he rejoices with them in the heavenly Kingdom, glorifying God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, throughout all ages.

Saint Juvenal, the Protomartyr of America, was born in 1761 in Nerchinsk, Siberia. His secular name was John Feodorovich Hovorukhin, and he was trained as a mining engineer. In a letter to Abbot Nazarius of Valaam (December 13, 1819), Saint Herman says that Saint Juvenal “had been an assistant at our monastery and was a former officer.”

After his wife died in 1791, John entered a monastery at Saint Petersburg (Saint Herman’s Letter of December 13, 1819) and was tonsured with the name Juvenal. Three years later, he went to Alaska as a missionary.

During 1794, the hieromonks Juvenal and Macarius spent two months in the area around Kodiak teaching the inhabitants about Christ and baptizing them. They traveled in small boats of hide in all sorts of weather, dividing up the territory among themselves. Saint Herman tells of a conversation he heard one day as he walked with the hieromonks to a small hill on the south side of the harbor. They sat down facing the sea, and spoke of various things. Soon they began to discuss where each of them should go to preach. Aflame with zeal and eager to set out on their journey, a friendly argument ensued between Father Macarius and Father Juvenal. Father Macarius said he intended to go north to the Aleutian Islands, and then make his way to the Alaskan mainland, where the inhabitants had invited him to visit. The monks had a map of Captain Cook’s which indicated that some Russians were living near a certain river in that particular area, and Father Macarius hoped to find them.

Father Juvenal interrupted, saying that he believed that the Alaskan mainland was his territory. “I beg you to yield to me and not offend me in this,” he told Father Macarius, “since the ship is leaving for Yakutan. I shall begin preaching in the south, proceeding north along the ocean, cross the Kenai peninsula, then from the port there I shall cross to Alaska.”

Father Macarius became sorrowful and said, “No, Father. Do not restrict me in this way. You know the Aleutian chain of islands is joined to Alaska, therefore it belongs to me, and also the whole northern shore. As for you, the southern part of America is sufficient for your whole lifetime, if you please.”

As he listened to their apostolic fervor, Saint Herman says he “went from joy to rapture” (Letter to Abbot Nazarius, May 19, 1795).

In 1795, Father Juvenal baptized over 700 Chugatchi at Nushek, then he crossed Kenai Bay and baptized the local people there. In 1796, according to native oral tradition, Saint Juvenal came to the mouth of the Kuskokwim near the present village of Quinahgak, where he was killed by a hunting party (There is a forged diary attributed to Ivan Petroff which gives a slanderous version of Father Juvenal’s death, and alleges that he was martyred at Lake Iliamna).

The precise reason for Saint Juvenal’s murder by the natives is not known. However, they later told Saint Innocent something about his death. They said that Saint Juvenal did not try to defend himself when attacked, nor did he make any attempt to escape. After being struck from behind, he turned to face his attackers and begged them to spare the natives he had baptized.

The natives told Saint Innocent that after they had killed Saint Juvenal, he got up and followed them, urging them to repent. The fell upon him again and gave him a savage beating. Once more, he got to his feet and called them to repentance. This happened several times, then finally the natives hacked him to pieces. Thus, the zealous Hieromonk Juvenal became the first Orthodox Christian in America to receive the crown of martyrdom. His unnamed guide, possibly a Tanaina Indian convert, was also martyred at the same time.

It is said that a local shaman removed Saint Juvenal’s brass pectoral cross from his body and attempted to cast a spell. Unexpectedly, the shaman was lifted up off the ground. He made three more tries with the same result, then concluded that there was a greater power than his own at work here. Years later, a man showed up at the Nushagak Trading Post wearing a brass pectoral cross exactly like the one worn by Saint Juvenal.

A column of light arose from his holy relics and reached up to Heaven. It is not known how long this phenomenon continued.

Saint Juvenal, in his tireless evangelization of the native peoples of Alaska, served the Church more than all the other missionaries combined.

The Universal Exaltation of the Holy Cross

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The Elevation of the Venerable and Life-Creating Cross of the Lord: The pagan Roman emperors tried to completely eradicate from human memory the holy places where our Lord Jesus Christ suffered and was resurrected for mankind. The Emperor Hadrian (117-138) gave orders to cover over the ground of Golgotha and the Sepulchre of the Lord, and to build a temple of the pagan goddess Venus and a statue of Jupiter.

Pagans gathered at this place and offered sacrifice to idols there. Eventually after 300 years, by Divine Providence, the great Christian sacred remains, the Sepulchre of the Lord and the Life-Creating Cross were again discovered and opened for veneration. This took place under the Emperor Constantine the Great (306-337) after his victory in the year 312 over Maxentius, ruler of the Western part of the Roman empire, and over Licinius, ruler of its Eastern part. In the year 323 Constantine became the sole ruler of the vast Roman Empire.

In 313 he had issued the Edict of Milan, by which the Christian religion was legalized and the persecutions against Christians in the Western half of the empire were stopped. The ruler Licinius, although he had signed the Edict of Milan to oblige Constantine, still fanatically continued the persecutions against Christians. Only after his conclusive defeat did the 313 Edict of toleration extend also to the Eastern part of the empire. The Holy Equal of the Apostles Emperor Constantine, having gained victory over his enemies in three wars with God’s assistance, had seen in the heavens the Sign of the Cross, and written beneath: “By this you shall conquer.”

Ardently desiring to find the Cross on which our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, Saint Constantine sent his mother, the pious Empress Helena (May 21), to Jerusalem, providing her with a letter to Saint Macarius, Patriarch of Jerusalem.

Although the holy empress Helen was already in her declining years, she set about completing the task with enthusiasm. The empress gave orders to destroy the pagan temple and the statues in Jerusalem. Searching for the Life-Creating Cross, she made inquiry of Christians and Jews, but for a long time her search remained unsuccessful.

Finally, they directed her to a certain elderly Hebrew by the name of Jude who stated that the Cross was buried where the temple of Venus stood. They demolished the pagan temple and, after praying, they began to excavate the ground. Soon the Tomb of the Lord was uncovered. Not far from it the holy empress Helen spotted a patch of basil herbs sprouting from the ground and all were overwehelmed by the fragrant aroma. It was there that they began to dig under the patch of fragrant basil and found three crosses buried in the earth, a board with the inscription ordered by Pilate, and four nails which had pierced the Lord’s Body (March 6).

In order to discern on which of the three crosses the Savior was crucified, Patriarch Macarius alternately touched the crosses to a corpse. When the Cross of the Lord touched the dead one, he came to life. Having beheld the raising of the dead man, everyone was convinced that the Life-Creating Cross was found.

Christians came in a huge throng to venerate the Holy Cross, beseeching Saint Macarius to elevate the Cross, so that even those far off might reverently contemplate it. Then the Patriarch and other spiritual leaders raised up the Holy Cross, and the people, saying “Lord have mercy,” reverently prostrated before the Venerable Wood. This solemn event occurred in the year 326.

During the discovery of the Life-Creating Cross another miracle took place: a grievously sick woman, beneath the shadow of the Holy Cross, was healed instantly. The elder Jude and other Jews there believed in Christ and accepted Holy Baptism. Jude received the name Cyriacus and afterwards was consecrated Bishop of Jerusalem.

During the reign of Julian the Apostate (361-363) he accepted a martyr’s death for Christ (see October 28). The holy empress Helen journeyed to the holy places connected with the earthly life of the Savior, building more than 80 churches, at Bethlehem the birthplace of Christ, and on the Mount of Olives where the Lord ascended to Heaven, and at Gethsemane where the Savior prayed before His sufferings and where the Mother of God was buried after her death.

Saint Helen took part of the Life-Creating Wood and nails with her to Constantinople. The holy emperor Constantine gave orders to build at Jerusalem a majestic and spacious church in honor of the Resurrection of Christ, also including under its roof the Life-Giving Tomb of the Lord and Golgotha. The temple was constructed in about ten years. Saint Helen did not survive until the dedication of the temple, she died in the year 327. The church was consecrated on September 13, 335. On the following day, September 14, the festal celebration of the Exaltation of the Venerable and Life-Creating Cross was established.

Another event connected to the Cross of the Lord is remembered also on this day: its return to Jerusalem from Persia after a fourteen year captivity. During the reign of the Byzantine emperor Phocas (602-610) the Persian emperor Khozroes II in a war against the Greeks defeated the Greek army, plundered Jerusalem and captured both the Life-Creating Cross of the Lord and the Holy Patriarch Zachariah (609-633).

The Cross remained in Persia for fourteen years and only under the emperor Heraclius (610-641), who with the help of God defeated Khozroes and concluded peace with his successor and son Syroes, was the Cross of the Lord returned to the Christians.

With great solemnity the Life-creating Cross was transferred to Jerusalem. Emperor Heraclius in imperial crown and royal purple carried the Cross of Christ into the temple of the Resurrection. With the emperor went Patriarch Zacharios. At the gates by which they ascended Golgotha, the emperor suddenly stopped and was not able to proceed farther. The holy Patriarch explained to the emperor that an angel of the Lord was blocking his way. The emperor was told to remove his royal trappings and to walk barefoot, since He Who bore the Cross for the salvation of the world from sin had made His way to Golgotha in all humility. Then Heraclius donned plain garb, and without further hindrance, carried the Cross of Christ into the church.

In a sermon on the Exaltation of the Cross, Saint Andrew of Crete (July 4) says: “The Cross is exalted, and everything true gathers together, the Cross is exalted, and the city makes solemn, and the people celebrate the feast”.

His Eminence, Archbishop Michael Visits Our Parish

His Eminence, Archbishop Michael presided at Great Vespers on the evening of Saturday, August 26th at 5:00 PM.

Hierarchical Liturgy began at 9:30 AM on Sunday, August 27th.  The Rev. Vasil Dubee was awarded the Nabedrenyk, a vestment symbolizing a shield that is awarded to priests. Father Vasil was also installed as the Rector of our parish and our annual parish picnic followed the divine services. Glory to God for such a beautiful day!

The Dormition of our Most Holy Lady the Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary

0815dormition0001The Dormition of our Most Holy Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary: After the Ascension of the Lord, the Mother of God remained in the care of the Apostle John the Theologian, and during his journeys She lived at the home of his parents, near the Mount of Olives. She was a source of consolation and edification both for the Apostles and for all the believers. Conversing with them, She told them about miraculous events: the Annunciation, the seedless and undefiled Conception of Christ born of Her, about His early childhood, and about His earthly life. Like the Apostles, She helped plant and strengthen the Christian Church by Her presence, Her discourse and Her prayers.

The reverence of the Apostles for the Most Holy Virgin was extraordinary. After the receiving of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the Apostles remained at Jerusalem for about ten years attending to the salvation of the Jews, and wanting moreover to see the Mother of God and hear Her holy discourse. Many of the newly-enlightened in the Faith even came from faraway lands to Jerusalem, to see and to hear the All-Pure Mother of God.

During the persecution initiated by King Herod against the young Church of Christ (Acts 12:1-3), the Most Holy Virgin and the Apostle John the Theologian withdrew to Ephesus in the year 43. The preaching of the Gospel there had fallen by lot to the Apostle John the Theologian. The Mother of God was on Cyprus with Saint Lazarus the Four-Days-Dead, where he was bishop. She was also on Holy Mount Athos. Saint Stephen of the Holy Mountain says that the Mother of God prophetically spoke of it: “Let this place be my lot, given to me by my Son and my God. I will be the Patroness of this place and intercede with God for it.”

The respect of ancient Christians for the Mother of God was so great that they preserved what they could about Her life, what they could take note of concerning Her sayings and deeds, and they even passed down to us a description of Her outward appearance.

According to Tradition, based on the words of the Hieromartyrs Dionysius the Areopagite (October 3), Ignatius the God-Bearer (December 20), Saint Ambrose of Milan (December 7) had occasion to write in his work “On Virgins” concerning the Mother of God: “She was a Virgin not only in body, but also in soul, humble of heart, circumspect in word, wise in mind, not overly given to speaking, a lover of reading and of work, and prudent in speech. Her rule of life was to offend no one, to intend good for everyone, to respect the aged, not envy others, avoid bragging, be healthy of mind, and to love virtue.”

When did She ever hurl the least insult in the face of Her parents? When was She at discord with Her kin? When did She ever puff up with pride before a modest person, or laugh at the weak, or shun the destitute? With Her there was nothing of glaring eyes, nothing of unseemly words, nor of improper conduct. She was modest in the movement of Her body, Her step was quiet, and Her voice straightforward; so that Her face was an expression of soul. She was the personification of purity.

All Her days She was concerned with fasting: She slept only when necessary, and even then, when Her body was at rest, She was still alert in spirit, repeating in Her dreams what She had read, or the implementation of proposed intentions, or those planned yet anew. She was out of Her house only for church, and then only in the company of relatives. Otherwise, She seldom appeared outside Her house in the company of others, and She was Her own best overseer. Others could protect Her only in body, but She Herself guarded Her character.”

According to Tradition, that from the compiler of Church history Nicephorus Callistus (fourteenth century), the Mother of God “was of average stature, or as others suggest, slightly more than average; Her hair golden in appearance; Her eyes bright with pupils like shiny olives; Her eyebrows strong in character and moderately dark, Her nose pronounced and Her mouth vibrant bespeaking sweet speech; Her face was neither round nor angular, but somewhat oblong; the palm of Her hands and fingers were longish…

In conversation with others She preserved decorum, neither becoming silly nor agitated, and indeed especially never angry; without artifice, and direct, She was not overly concerned about Herself, and far from pampering Herself, She was distinctly full of humility. Regarding the clothing which She wore, She was satisfied to have natural colors, which even now is evidenced by Her holy head-covering. Suffice it to say, a special grace attended all Her actions.” [Nicephoros Callistus borrowed his description from Saint Epiphanius of Cyprus (May 12), from the “Letter to Theophilus Concerning Icons.”]

The circumstances of the Dormition of the Mother of God were known in the Orthodox Church from apostolic times. Already in the first century, the Hieromartyr Dionysius the Areopagite wrote about Her “Falling-Asleep.” In the second century, the account of the bodily ascent of the Most Holy Virgin Mary to Heaven is found in the works of Meliton, Bishop of Sardis. In the fourth century, Saint Epiphanius of Cyprus refers to the tradition about the “Falling Asleep” of the Mother of God. In the fifth century, Saint Juvenal, Patriarch of Jerusalem, told the holy Byzantine Empress Pulcheria: “Although there is no account of the circumstances of Her death in Holy Scripture, we know about them from the most ancient and credible Tradition.” This tradition was gathered and expounded in the Church History of Nicephorus Callistus during the fourteenth century.

At the time of Her blessed Falling Asleep, the Most Holy Virgin Mary was again at Jerusalem. Her fame as the Mother of God had already spread throughout the land and had aroused many of the envious and the spiteful against Her. They wanted to make attempts on Her life; but God preserved Her from enemies.

Day and night She spent her time in prayer. The Most Holy Theotokos went often to the Holy Sepulchre of the Lord, and here She offered up fevent prayer. More than once, enemies of the Savior sought to hinder Her from visiting her holy place, and they asked the High Priest for a guard to watch over the Grave of the Lord. The Holy Virgin continued to pray right in front of them, yet unseen by anyone.

In one such visit to Golgotha, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Her and announced Her approaching departure from this life to eternal life. In pledge of this, the Archangel gave Her a palm branch. With these heavenly tidings the Mother of God returned to Bethlehem with the three girls attending Her (Sepphora, Abigail, and Jael). She summoned Righteous Joseph of Arimathea and other disciples of the Lord, and told them of Her impending Repose.

The Most Holy Virgin prayed also that the Lord would have the Apostle John come to Her. The Holy Spirit transported him from Ephesus, setting him in that very place where the Mother of God lay. After the prayer, the Most Holy Virgin offered incense, and John heard a voice from Heaven, closing Her prayer with the word “Amen.” The Mother of God took it that the voice meant the speedy arrival of the Apostles and the Disciples and the holy Bodiless Powers.

The faithful, whose number by then was impossible to count, gathered together, says Saint John of Damascus, like clouds and eagles, to listen to the Mother of God. Seeing one another, the Disciples rejoiced, but in their confusion they asked each other why the Lord had gathered them together in one place. Saint John the Theologian, greeting them with tears of joy, said that the time of the Virgin’s repose was at hand.

Going in to the Mother of God, they beheld Her lying upon the bed, and filled with spiritual joy. The Disciples greeted Her, and then they told her how they had been carried miraculously from their places of preaching. The Most Holy Virgin Mary glorified God, because He had heard Her prayer and fulfilled Her heart’s desire, and She began speaking about Her imminent end.

During this conversation the Apostle Paul also appeared in a miraculous manner together with his disciples Dionysius the Areopagite, Saint Hierotheus, Saint Timothy and others of the Seventy Apostles. The Holy Spirit had gathered them all together so that they might be granted the blessing of the All-Pure Virgin Mary, and more fittingly to see to the burial of the Mother of the Lord. She called each of them to Herself by name, She blessed them and extolled them for their faith and the hardships they endured in preaching the Gospel of Christ. To each She wished eternal bliss, and prayed with them for the peace and welfare of the whole world.

Then came the third hour (9 A.M.), when the Dormition of the Mother of God was to occur. A number of candles were burning. The holy Disciples surrounded her beautifully adorned bed, offering praise to God. She prayed in anticipation of Her demise and of the arrival of Her longed-for Son and Lord. Suddenly, the inexpressible Light of Divine Glory shone forth, before which the blazing candles paled in comparison. All who saw it took fright. Descending from Heaven was Christ, the King of Glory, surrounded by hosts of Angels and Archangels and other Heavenly Powers, together with the souls of the Forefathers and the Prophets, who had prophesied in ages past concerning the Most Holy Virgin Mary.

Seeing Her Son, the Mother of God exclaimed: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God My Savior, for He hath regarded the low estate of His Handmaiden” (Luke 1:46-48) and, rising from Her bed to meet the Lord, She bowed down to Him, and the Lord bid Her enter into Life Eternal. Without any bodily suffering, as though in a happy sleep, the Most Holy Virgin Mary gave Her soul into the hands of Her Son and God.

Then began a joyous angelic song. Accompanying the pure soul of the God-betrothed and with reverent awe for the Queen of Heaven, the angels exclaimed: “Hail, Full of Grace, the Lord is with Thee, blessed art Thou among women! For lo, the Queen, God’s Maiden comes, lift up the gates, and with the Ever-Existing One, take up the Mother of Light; for through Her salvation has come to all the human race. It is impossible to gaze upon Her, and it is impossible to render Her due honor” (Stikherion on “Lord, I Have Cried”). The Heavenly gates were raised, and meeting the soul of the Most Holy Mother of God, the Cherubim and the Seraphim glorified Her with joy. The face of the Mother of God was radiant with the glory of Divine virginity, and from Her body there came a sweet fragrance.

Miraculous was the life of the All-Pure Virgin, and wondrous was Her Repose, as Holy Church sings: “In Thee, O Queen, the God of all hath given thee as thy portion the things that are above nature. Just as in the Birth-Giving He did preserve Thine virginity, so also in the grave He did preserve Thy body from decay” (Canon 1, Ode 6, Troparion 1).

Kissing the all-pure body with reverence and in awe, the Disciples in turn were blessed by it and filled with grace and spiritual joy. Through the great glorification of the Most Holy Theotokos, the almighty power of God healed the sick, who with faith and love touched the holy bed.

Bewailing their separation from the Mother of God, the Apostles prepared to bury Her all-pure body. The holy Apostles Peter, Paul, James and others of the Twelve Apostles carried the funeral bier upon their shoulders, and upon it lay the body of the Ever-Virgin Mary. Saint John the Theologian went at the head with the resplendent palm-branch from Paradise. The other saints and a multitude of the faithful accompanied the funeral bier with candles and censers, singing sacred songs. This solemn procession went from Sion through Jerusalem to the Garden of Gethsemane.

With the start of the procession there suddenly appeared over the all-pure body of the Mother of God and all those accompanying Her a resplendent circular cloud, like a crown. There was heard the singing of the Heavenly Powers, glorifying the Mother of God, which echoed that of the worldly voices. This circle of Heavenly singers and radiance accompanied the procession to the very place of burial.

Unbelieving inhabitants of Jerusalem, taken aback by the extraordinarily grand funeral procession and vexed at the honor accorded the Mother of Jesus, complained of this to the High Priest and scribes. Burning with envy and vengefulness toward everything that reminded them of Christ, they sent out their own servants to disrupt the procession and to set the body of the Mother of God afire.

An angry crowd and soldiers set off against the Christians, but the circular cloud accompanying the procession descended and surrounded them like a wall. The pursuers heard the footsteps and the singing, but could not see any of those accompanying the procession. Indeed, many of them were struck blind.

The Jewish priest Athonios, out of spite and hatred for the Mother of Jesus of Nazareth, wanted to topple the funeral bier on which lay the body of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, but an angel of God invisibly cut off his hands, which had touched the bier. Seeing such a wonder, Athonios repented and with faith confessed the majesty of the Mother of God. He received healing and joined the crowd accompanying the body of the Mother of God, and he became a zealous follower of Christ.

When the procession reached the Garden of Gethsemane, then amidst the weeping and the wailing began the last kiss to the all-pure body. Only towards evening were the Apostles able to place it in the tomb and seal the entrance to the cave with a large stone.

For three days they did not depart from the place of burial, praying and chanting Psalms. Through the wise providence of God, the Apostle Thomas was not to be present at the burial of the Mother of God. Arriving late on the third day at Gethsemane, he lay down at the tomb and with bitter tears asked that he might be permitted to look once more upon the Mother of God and bid her farewell. The Apostles out of heartfelt pity for him decided to open the grave and permit him the comfort of venerating the holy relics of the Ever-Virgin Mary. Having opened the grave, they found in it only the grave wrappings and were thus convinced of the bodily ascent of the Most Holy Virgin Mary to Heaven.

On the evening of the same day, when the Apostles had gathered at a house to strengthen themselves with food, the Mother of God appeared to them and said: “Rejoice! I am with you all the days of your lives.” This so gladdened the Apostles and everyone with them, that they took a portion of the bread, set aside at the meal in memory of the Savior (“the Lord’s Portion”), and they exclaimed : “Most Holy Theotokos, save us”. (This marks the beginning of the rite of offering up the “Panagia” (“All-Holy”), a portion of bread in honor of the Mother of God, which is done at monasteries to the present day).

The sash of the Mother of God, and Her holy garb, preserved with reverence and distributed over the face of the earth in pieces, have worked miracles both in the past and at present. Her numerous icons everywhere pour forth signs and healings, and Her holy body, taken up to Heaven, bears witness to our own future life there. Her body was not left to the vicissitudes of the transitory world, but was incomparably exalted by its glorious ascent to Heaven.

The Feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos is celebrated with special solemnity at Gethsemane, the place of Her burial. Nowhere else is there such sorrow of heart at the separation from the Mother of God, and nowhere else such joy, because of Her intercession for the world.

The holy city of Jerusalem is separated from the Mount of Olives by the valley of Kedron on Josaphat. At the foot of the Mount of Olives is the Garden of Gethsemane, where olive trees bear fruit even now.

The holy Ancestor-of-God Joachim had himself reposed at 80 years of age, several years after the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple (November 21). Saint Anna, having been left a widow, moved from Nazareth to Jerusalem, and lived near the Temple. At Jerusalem she bought two pieces of property: the first at the gates of Gethsemane, and the second in the valley of Josaphat. At the second locale she built a tomb for the members of her family, and where also she herself was buried with Joachim. It was there in the Garden of Gethsemane that the Savior often prayed with His disciples.

The most-pure body of the Mother of God was buried in the family tomb. Christians honored the sepulchre of the Mother of God, and they built a church on this spot. Within the church was preserved the precious funeral cloth, which covered Her all-pure and fragrant body.

The holy Patriarch Juvenal of Jerusalem (420-458) testified before the emperor Marcian (450-457) as to the authenticity of the tradition about the miraculous ascent of the Mother of God to Heaven, and he sent to the empress, Saint Pulcheria (September 10), the grave wrappings of the Mother of God from Her tomb. Saint Pulcheria then placed these grave-wrappings within the Blachernae church.

Accounts have been preserved, that at the end of the seventh century a church had been built atop the underground church of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, and that from its high bell-tower could be seen the dome of the Church of the Resurrection of the Lord. Traces of this church are no longer to be seen. And in the ninth century near the subterranean Gethsemane church a monastery was built, in which more than 30 monks struggled.

Great destruction was done the Church in the year 1009 by the despoiler of the holy places, Hakim. Radical changes, the traces of which remain at present, also took place under the crusaders in the year 1130. During the eleventh to twelfth centuries the piece of excavated stone, at which the Savior had prayed on the night of His betrayal disappeared from Jerusalem. This piece of stone had been in the Gethsemane basilica from the sixth century.

But in spite of the destruction and the changes, the overall original cruciform (cross-shaped) plan of the church has been preserved. At the entrance to the church along the sides of the iron gates stand four marble columns. To enter the church, it is necessary to go down a stairway of 48 steps. At the 23rd step on the right side is a chapel in honor of the holy Ancestors-of-God Joachim and Anna together with their graves, and on the left side opposite, the chapel of Saint Joseph the Betrothed with his grave. The right chapel belongs to the Orthodox Church, and the left to the Armenian Church (since 1814).

The church of the Dormition of the Theotokos has the following dimensions: in length it is 48 arshin, and in breadth 8 arshin [1 arshin = 28 inches]. At an earlier time the church had also windows beside the doors. The whole temple was adorned with a multitude of lampadas and offerings. Two small entrances lead into the burial-chamber of the Mother of God. One enters through the western doors, and exits at the northern doors. The burial-chamber of the All-Pure Virgin Mary is veiled with precious curtains. The burial place was hewn out of stone in the manner of the ancient Jewish graves and is very similar to the Sepulchre of the Lord. Beyond the burial-chamber is the altar of the church, in which Divine Liturgy is celebrated each day in the Greek language.

The olive woods on the eastern and northern sides of the temple was acquired from the Turks by the Orthodox during the seventh and eighth centuries. The Catholics acquired the olive woods on the east and south sides in 1803, and the Armenians on the west side in 1821.

On August 12, at Little Gethsemane, at the second hour of the night, the head of the Gethsemane church celebrates Divine Liturgy. With the end of Liturgy, at the fourth hour of the morning, he serves a short Molieben before the resplendent burial shroud, lifts it in his hands and solemnly carries it beyond the church to Gethsemane proper where the holy sepulchre of the Mother of God is situated. All the members of the Russian Spiritual Mission in Jerusalem, with the head of the Mission presiding, participate each year in the procession (called the “Litania”) with the holy burial shroud of the Mother of God.

The rite of the Burial of the Mother of God at Gethsemane begins customarily on the morning of August 14. A multitude of people with hierarchs and clergy at the head set off from the Jerusalem Patriarchate (nearby the Church of the Resurrection of Christ) in sorrowful procession. Along the narrow alley-ways of the Holy City the funeral procession makes its way to Gethsemane. Toward the front of the procession an icon of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos is carried. Along the way, pilgrims meet the icon, kissing the image of the All-Pure Virgin Mary and lift children of various ages to the icon. After the clergy, in two rows walk the black-robed monks and nuns of the Holy City: Greeks, Roumanians, Arabs, Russians. The procession, going along for about two hours, concludes with Lamentations at the Gethsemane church. In front the altar, beyond the burial chamber of the Mother of God, is a raised-up spot, upon which rests the burial shroud of the Most Holy Mother of God among fragrant flowers and myrtle, with precious coverings.

“O marvelous wonder! The Fount of Life is placed in the grave, and the grave doth become the ladder to Heaven…” Here at the grave of the All-Pure Virgin, these words strike deep with their original sense and grief is dispelled by joy: “Hail, Full of Grace, the Lord is with Thee, granting the world, through Thee, great mercy!”

Numerous pilgrims, having kissed the icon of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, following an ancient custom, then stoop down and go beneath it.

On the day of the Leave-taking of the feast (August 23), another solemn procession is made. On the return path, the holy burial shroud is carried by clergy led by the Archimandrite of Gethsemane.

There is an article in the “Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate”, 1979, No. 3 regarding the rite of the litany and Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God in the Holy Land.

Today flowers are blessed in church, and people keep them in their homes. During times of family strife or illness, the flower petals are placed in the censer with the incense, and the whole house is censed. See the Prayer at the Sanctification of any Fragrant Herbage.

The Holy Transfiguration of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ

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The transfiguration of Christ is one of the central events recorded in the gospels. Immediately after the Lord was recognized by His apostles as “the Christ [Messiah], the Son of the Living God,” He told them that “He must go up to Jerusalem and suffer many things . . . and be killed and on the third day be raised” (Mt 16). The announcement of Christ’s approaching passion and death was met with indignation by the disciples. And then, after rebuking them, the Lord took Peter, James, and John “up to a high mountain”—by tradition Mount Tabor—and was “transfigured before them.”

The Jewish Festival of Booths was a feast of the dwelling of God with men, and the transfiguration of Christ reveals how this dwelling takes place in and through the Messiah, the Son of God in human flesh. There is little doubt that Christ’s transfiguration took place at the time of the Festival of Booths, and that the celebration of the event in the Christian Church became the New Testamental fulfillment of the Old Testamental feast in a way similar to the feasts of Passover and Pentecost.

In the Transfiguration, the apostles see the glory of the Kingdom of God present in majesty in the person of Christ they see that “in Him, indeed, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,” that “in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col 1.19, 2.9). They see this before the crucifixion so that in the resurrection they might know Who it is Who has suffered for them, and what it is that this one, Who is God, has prepared for those who love Him. This is what the Church celebrates in the feast of the Transfiguration.

Besides the fundamental meaning which the event of the Transfiguration has in the context of the life and mission of Christ, and in addition to the theme of the glory of God which is revealed in all of its divine splendor in the face of the Saviour, the presence of Moses and Elijah is also of great significance for the understanding and celebration of the feast. Many of the hymns refer to these two leading figures of the Old Covenant as do the three scripture readings of Vespers which tell of the manifestation of the glory of God to these holy men of old (Ex 24.12–18; 33.11–34.8; 1 Kg 19.3–16).

Moses and Elijah, according to the liturgical verses, are not only the greatest figures of the Old Testament who now come to worship the Son of God in glory, they also are not merely two of the holy men to whom God has revealed himself in the prefigurative theophanies of the Old Covenant of Israel. These two figures actually stand for the Old Testament itself: Moses for the Law and Elijah for the Prophets. And Christ is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets (Mt 5.17).

They also stand for the living and dead, for Moses died and his burial place is known, while Elijah was taken alive into heaven in order to appear again to announce the time of God’s salvation in Christ the Messiah.

Thus, in appearing with Jesus on the mount of Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah show that the Messiah Saviour is here, and that He is the Son of God to Whom the Father Himself bears witness, the Lord of all creation, of the Old and New Testaments, of the living and the dead. The Transfiguration of Christ in itself is the fulfillment of all of the theophanies and manifestations of God, a fulfillment made perfect and complete in the person of Christ. The Transfiguration of Christ reveals to us our ultimate destiny as Christians, the ultimate destiny of all men and all creation to be transformed and glorified by the majestic splendor of God Himself.

There is little doubt that the feast of the Transfiguration of Christ belonged first to the pre-Easter season of the Church. It was perhaps celebrated on one of the Sundays of Lent, for besides certain historical evidence and the fact that today St Gregory Palamas, the great teacher of the Transfiguration of Christ, is commemorated during Lent, the event itself is one which is definitely connected with the approaching death and resurrection of the Saviour.

The feast of the Transfiguration is presently celebrated on the sixth of August, probably for some historical reason. The summer celebration of the feast, however, has lent itself very well to the theme of transfiguration. The blessing of grapes, as well as other fruits and vegetables on this day is the most beautiful and adequate sign of the final ­transfiguration of all things in Christ. It signifies the ultimate flowering and fruitfulness of all creation in the paradise of God’s unending Kingdom of Life where all will he transformed by the glory of the Lord.

Commemoration of the Miraculous Appearance of the Mother of God in Pochayiv, Ukraine

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Commemorated on July 23

The celebration in honor of the Pochayiv Icon of the Mother of God on July 23 was established in memory of the deliverance of the Dormition Lavra monastery in Pochayiv, Ukraine from an Islamic Turkish siege on July 20-23, 1675.

In the summer of 1675 during the Zbarazhsk War with the Turks, in the reign of the Polish King Jan Sobesski (1674-1696), regiments composed of Tatars under the command of Khan Nurredin via Vishnevets fell upon the Pochayiv monastery, surrounding it on three sides. The weak monastery walls and its stone buildings did not offer much defense against a siege. The ihumen Joseph Dobromirsky urged the brethren and laypeople to pray to their heavenly intercessors: the Most Holy Theotokos and Saint Job of Pochayiv (October 28).

The monks and the laypeople prayed fervently, prostrating themselves before the wonderworking icon of the Mother of God and the reliquary with the relics of Saint Job. At sunrise on the morning of July 23, as the Tatars were planning an assault on the monastery, the ihumen ordered an Akathist to the Theotokos to be sung. At the opening words, “O Queen of the Heavenly Hosts,” the Most Holy Theotokos suddenly appeared over the church, in “an unfurled gleaming-white maphorion,” with angels holding unsheathed swords. Saint Job stood beside the Mother of God, bowing to Her and beseeching Her to defend the monastery.

The Muslim Tatars believed the heavenly army was a vision, and in confusion they began to shoot arrows at the Most Holy Theotokos and Saint Job, but the arrows fell backwards and wounded those who shot them. Terror seized the enemy. In a flight of panic and without looking, they trampled upon and killed each other. The defenders of the monastery attempted pursuit and took many prisoners. Some of the prisoners afterwards accepted the Christian Faith and remained at the monastery thereafter.