Lives of all saints commemorated on May 23


Holy Pentecost

In the Church’s annual liturgical cycle, Pentecost is “the last and great day.” It is the celebration by the Church of the coming of the Holy Spirit as the end—the achievement and fulfillment—of the entire history of salvation. For the same reason, however, it is also the celebration of the beginning: it is the “birthday” of the Church as the presence among us of the Holy Spirit, of the new life in Christ, of grace, knowledge, adoption to God and holiness.

This double meaning and double joy is revealed to us, first of all, in the very name of the feast. Pentecost in Greek means fifty, and in the sacred biblical symbolism of numbers, the number fifty symbolizes both the fulness of time and that which is beyond time: the Kingdom of God itself. It symbolizes the fulness of time by its first component: 49, which is the fulness of seven (7 x 7): the number of time. And, it symbolizes that which is beyond time by its second component: 49 + 1, this one being the new day, the “day without evening” of God’s eternal Kingdom. With the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Christ’s disciples, the time of salvation, the Divine work of redemption has been completed, the fulness revealed, all gifts bestowed: it belongs to us now to “appropriate” these gifts, to be that which we have become in Christ: participants and citizens of His Kingdom.

THE VIGIL OF PENTECOST

The all-night Vigil service begins with a solemn invitation:

“Let us celebrate Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit,
The appointed day of promise, and the fulfillment of hope,
The mystery which is as great as it is precious.”

In the coming of the Spirit, the very essence of the Church is revealed:

“The Holy Spirit provides all,
Overflows with prophecy, fulfills the priesthood,
Has taught wisdom to illiterates, has revealed fishermen as theologians,
He brings together the whole council of the Church.”

In the three readings of the Old Testament (Numbers 11:16-17, 24-29; Joel 2:23-32; Ezekiel 36:24-28) we hear the prophecies concerning the Holy Spirit. We are taught that the entire history of mankind was directed towards the day on which God “would pour out His Spirit upon all flesh.” This day has come! All hope, all promises, all expectations have been fulfilled. At the end of the Aposticha hymns, for the first time since Easter, we sing the hymn: “O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth...,” the one with which we inaugurate all our services, all prayers, which is, as it were, the life-breath of the Church, and whose coming to us, whose “descent” upon us in this festal Vigil, is indeed the very experience of the Holy Spirit “coming and abiding in us.”

Having reached its climax, the Vigil continues as an explosion of joy and light for “verily the light of the Comforter has come and illumined the world.” In the Gospel reading (John 20:19-23) the feast is interpreted to us as the feast of the Church, of her divine nature, power and authority. The Lord sends His disciples into the world, as He Himself was sent by His Father. Later, in the antiphons of the Liturgy, we proclaim the universality of the apostles’ preaching, the cosmical significance of the feast, the sanctification of the whole world, the true manifestation of God’s Kingdom.

THE VESPERS OF PENTECOST

The liturgical peculiarity of Pentecost is a very special Vespers of the day itself. Usually this service follows immediately the Divine Liturgy, is “added” to it as its own fulfillment. The service begins as a solemn “summing up” of the entire celebration, as its liturgical synthesis. We hold flowers in our hands symbolizing the joy of the eternal spring, inaugurated by the coming of the Holy Spirit. After the festal Entrance, this joy reaches its climax in the singing of the Great Prokeimenon:

“Who is so great a God as our God?”

Then, having reached this climax, we are invited to kneel. This is our first kneeling since Easter. It signifies that after these fifty days of Paschal joy and fulness, of experiencing the Kingdom of God, the Church now is about to begin her pilgrimage through time and history. It is evening again, and the night approaches, during which temptations and failures await us, when, more than anything else, we need Divine help, that presence and power of the Holy Spirit, who has already revealed to us the joyful End, who now will help us in our effort towards fulfillment and salvation.

All this is revealed in the three prayers which the celebrant reads now as we all kneel and listen to him. In the first prayer, we bring to God our repentance, our increased appeal for forgiveness of sins, the first condition for entering into the Kingdom of God.

In the second prayer, we ask the Holy Spirit to help us, to teach us to pray and to follow the true path in the dark and difficult night of our earthly existence. Finally, in the third prayer, we remember all those who have achieved their earthly journey, but who are united with us in the eternal God of Love.

The joy of Easter has been completed and we again have to wait for the dawn of the Eternal Day. Yet, knowing our weakness, humbling ourselves by kneeling, we also know the joy and the power of the Holy Spirit who has come. We know that God is with us, that in Him is our victory.

Thus is completed the feast of Pentecost and we enter “the ordinary time” of the year. Yet, every Sunday now will be called “after Pentecost”—and this means that it is from the power and light of these fifty days that we shall receive our own power, the Divine help in our daily struggle. At Pentecost we decorate our churches with flowers and green branches—for the Church “never grows old, but is always young.” It is an evergreen, ever-living Tree of grace and life, of joy and comfort. For the Holy Spirit—“the Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life—comes and abides in us, and cleanses us from all impurity,” and fills our life with meaning, love, faith and hope.

Father Alexander Schmemann (1974)


Saint Michael the Confessor, Bishop of Synnada

Saint Michael the Confessor From his youth he longed for the monastic life and was sent by Patriarch Tarasius (784-806) to a monastery on the coast of the Black Sea. Saint Theophylactus (March 8), the future Bishop of Nicomedia also entered the monastery together with him.

At the monastery both monks engaged in spiritual struggles and were soon glorified by gifts from the Lord. Once, during a harvest, when the people were weakened by thirst, an empty metal vessel was filled with water by the prayer of the monks.

Patriarch Tarasius consecrated Saint Michael as bishop of the city of Synnada. Through his holy life and wisdom, Saint Michael won the love of believers, and the notice of the emperors Nicephorus I (802-811) and Michael I Rangabe (811-813). Saint Michael was present at the Seventh Ecumenical Council at Nicea in 787.

When the Iconoclast heretic Leo the Armenian (813-820) assumed the throne, he began to expel Orthodox hierarchs from their Sees, appointing heretics in their place.

Saint Michael defended Orthodoxy, bravely opposing the heretics and denouncing their error. Leo the Armenian brought Saint Michael to trial, but not fearing torture he answered resolutely, “I venerate the holy icons of my Savior Jesus Christ and the All-Pure Virgin, His Mother, and all the saints, and it is to them I bow down. I shall not obey your decrees to remove icons from churches.”

Leo then banished Saint Michael to the city of Eudokiada, where the confessor died about the year 821. The head of Saint Michael is preserved in the Great Lavra of Saint Athanasius on Mount Athos, and part of the relics are at the Iveron monastery.


Synaxis of the Saints of Rostov

The celebration of the Synaxis of the Rostov and Yaroslav Saints on May 23 was established by resolution of His Holiness Patriarch Alexis I (+ 1970) and the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, on March 10, 1964.

Archimandrite Abraham the Wonderworker (October 29, 1073-1077)

Prince Basil (+ 1238)

Metropolitan Demetrius (+ October 28, 1709 and September 21)

Bishop Ignatius (+ May 28, 1288)

Monk Irenarchus the Hermit (+ 1616)

Bishop Isaiah, wonderworker (+ May 15, 1090)

Blessed Isidore, Fool-for-Christ (+ 1474)

Bishop James (+ November 27, 1391)

Blessed John of the Hair-Shirt (the Merciful), Fool-for-Christ (+ 1580)

Bishop Leontius (+ May 23, 1073)

Peter, Tsarevich of Ordynsk (+ 1290)

Archbishop Theodore (+ November 28, 1394)

Yaroslav Wonderworkers:

Princes Basil (+ 1249), Constantine (+ 1257), Theodore (+ 1299) and his sons David (+ 1321) and Constantine (XIV)

Pereslavl Wonderworkers:

Prince Alexander Nevsky (+ 1263)

Prince Andrew of Smolensk (15th c.)

Monk Daniel the Archimandrite (+ 1540)

Monk Nikita the Stylite (+ 1186)

Uglich Wonderworkers:

Monk Cassian (+ 1504)

Tsarevich Demetrius (+ 1591)

Monk Ignatius of Lomsk (+ 1591)

Monk Paisius (+ 1504)

Prince Roman (+ 1285)

Poshekhonsk Wonderworkers:

Hieromartyr Adrian (+ 1550)

Monk Gennadius of Liubimograd and Kostroma (+ 1565)

Monk Sebastian (+ 1542)

Monk Sylvester of Obnora (+ 1379)


Venerable Euphrosyne, Abbess of Polotsk

Saint Euphrosyne, Abbess of Polotsk, was named Predslava in the world, and was the daughter of Prince George Vseslavich. From her childhood she was noted for her love of prayer and book learning. After turning down a proposal of marriage, Predslava received monastic tonsure with the name Euphrosyne. With the blessing of Bishop Elias of Polotsk, she began to live near the Sophia cathedral, where she occupied herself by the copying of books.

Around the year 1128 Bishop Elias entrusted the nun with the task of organizing a women’s monastery. Setting out for Seltso, the site of the future monastery, the ascetic took only her holy books. At the newly constructed Savior-Transfiguration monastery the saint taught the girls to copy books, singing, sewing and other handicrafts.

Through her efforts, a cathedral was built in 1161, which survives to the present day. Saint Euphrosyne also founded a men’s monastery dedicated to the Mother of God. Patriarch Luke of Constantinople sent a copy of the wonderworking Ephesus Icon of the Mother of God at her request. Shortly before her death, Saint Euphrosyne journeyed on pilgrimage to the Holy Places with her nephew David and sister Eupraxia.

After venerating the holy things at Constantinople, she arrived in Jerusalem, where at the Russian monastery of the Most Holy Theotokos the Lord granted her a peaceful end on May 24, 1173.

In 1187 the body of the saint was transferred to the Kiev Caves monastery, and the relics were transferred to Polotsk in 1910 to the monastery she founded.

Saint Euphrosyne of Polotsk was glorified in the Russian Church as a patroness of women’s monasticism.


Venerable Paisius, Abbot of Galich

No information is available at this time.


Martyr Michael “the Black-Robed” of Saint Sava Monastery

The Venerable Michael lived in the ninth century, and was from the city of Edessa in Mesopotamia, the son of Christian parents. After their death he distributed his inheritance to the poor, then went to Jerusalem to venerate the Holy Places. The Holy Land at that time was under Moslem rule.

Michael remained in Palestine and settled in the Lavra of Saint Sabbas, where he became the disciple of his relative, Saint Theodore of Edessa (July 9), who spent his time both in the monastery and living as an anchorite in the Judean desert. Saint Theodore accepted him and tonsured him right away. The two made baskets of reeds together in order to support themselves. Saint Michael would take the baskets to the marketplace in Jerusalem in order to sell them.

One day while at the marketplace, the eunuch of the Muslim Queen Seida, seeing that the baskets were both fine and well-made, took him along to the Queen, who was visiting the city with her husband King al-Ma’mun (813-833). The handsome monk aroused the desire of the Queen, who tried to lead him into the sin of adultery, but he did not accept her suggestions. The enraged Seida told her husband to have the monk beaten with rods because he had insulted her, and accused him of being an enemy of Islam.

There was a debate about which faith is the true one, Christianity or Islam, and the king said, “Do as I tell you, and confess that Mohammed is a prophet and an apostle of Christ, then I will adopt you as my son.” Saint Michael said, “Mohammad is neither an apostle nor a prophet, but a deceiver and the forerunner of the antichrist. Either send me back to my Elder at the monastery, or be baptized into our Christian faith and reign forever in the heavens, or send me to Christ through martyrdom.”

The king gave the Saint a cup with deadly poison to drink. Saint Michael made the Sign of the Cross over the cup, and he drank it, but he remained unharmed, according to the promise of the Lord (Mark16:18). After this the king ordered that he be decapitated. The monks of the Lavra of Saint Sabbas wanted to take the Saint’s relics to their Lavra, but the Christians of Jerusalem would not permit this. They said that since he was martyred in Jerusalem, his relics ought to remain there.The monks of the Lavra disagreed with them, saying that he was nurtured in the Lavra and so he should be buried there. There was such a heated argument that the king decided that the relics would go to the Lavra.

On the same day that Saint Michael was put to death, the Lord revealed this to Saint Theodore. After informing the brethren, he sent some monks to bring the relics to the Lavra. As the relics were carried to the Lavra, there was a pillar of fire from Heaven accompanying the relics, and it remained until they reached the Lavra. Saint Theodore and the monks came out to meet the procession with lit candles, and singing hymns. The holy relics were buried with the other holy Fathers who had endured martyrdom. Many miracles took place before the relics of Saint Michael, as a sign that he had found favor with God.

At the beginning of the twelfth century the relics of Saint Michael were seen by Daniel, the Igoumen of the Kiev Caves Monastery, while on pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Saint Michael is commemorated twice during the year: on May 23 (his repose) and July 29 (the transfer of his relics).


Saint Damiane (Demetrius), King and Hymnographer

Saint Damiane (in the world King Demetre I) was the son of Holy King Davit the Restorer.

King Davit proclaimed his son co-ruler of Georgia and crowned him with his own hands. He declared that his son Demetre, through his wisdom, chastity, bravery, and handsome appearance, would rule Georgia better than he himself had. Demetre acquired great glory while his father was still alive. In 1117 Davit sent him to Shirvan to fight, and the young commander astonished the people with his deftness in battle. Demetre seized Kaladzori Castle and returned home with many captives and much wealth.

King Demetre I struggled tirelessly to protect the inheritance he had received from his father: he guarded Georgia’s borders and fought to enlarge its frontiers. Many regions, including Hereti, Somkhiti, Tashiri, Javakheti, Artaani and the Tao border, were repopulated during King Demetre’s rule. These regions had been largely deserted after King Davit joined Tbilisi to the region of Heret-Kakheti.

King Demetre was never shaken by the evil intrigues plotted against him. First his noblemen revolted, demanding that his stepbrother, Vakhtang (Tsuata), replace him as king. (Ioane of Abuleti was the leader of this conspiracy.) Then Demetre’s own son Davit rebelled against him. Deeply disturbed by the behavior of his first-born son, the pious king could no longer bear the vanity of the world—he was tonsured a monk in the Davit-Gareji Wilderness and given the new name Damiane. He abdicated to his son, but Davit ruled just six months before he reposed.

While laboring at Davit-Gareji Monastery, Damiane composed many great hymns for the Church. His hymn to the Theotokos, “Thou Art the Vineyard,” is outstanding among these works. In order to protect the interests of the Georgian kingdom after his son’s death, Damiane was obliged to leave the monastery. He returned to the throne and intervened in the affairs of the government. At the same time he named another of his sons, George, co-ruler.

King Damiane-Demetre completed construction of Gelati Monastery, which had been started by his father, Holy King Davit the Restorer.

Saint Damiane reposed in 1157; he was buried at Gelati Monastery. A 12th-century image of Saint Damiane-Demetre was among the frescoes at the Davit-Gareji Monastery. In the 19th century the Russian traveler Andrew Muraviev reported seeing the fresco intact, but today only a narrow upper band of the image remains. A fresco of the pious king and monk Demetre has been preserved in the church at Matskhvarishi (now Latali) in the Svaneti region.


Icon of the Mother of God “You are a Vineyard”

No information available at this time.