The Sunday that falls between December 11-17 is known as the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers. These are the ancestors of Christ according to the flesh, who lived before the Law and under the Law, especially the Patriarch Abraham, to whom God said, “In thy seed shall all of the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3, 22:18).
The Righteous Aaron was the son of Amram and Jochebed, and the elder brother of the Prophet Moses the God-seer, and also of Miriam. He was a direct descendent of Levi by both parents. God called him “the Levite” in Exodus 4:14, when He appointed Aaron to be the spokesman for Moses, who was “slow of speech,” before the people. Later, he would also speak on behalf of Moses before Pharaoh in Egypt (Ex. 4:30; 7:2). Aaron was married to Elisheba, the daughter of the Prince of Judah (Ex. 6:23), who bore him four sons.
Moses was eighty years old and Aaron was eighty-three when they spoke to Pharaoh and asked that the Hebrews be released from their slavery. The Lord told Moses that Pharaoh would ask them for a miracle, and that Aaron should throw down his rod before him, and it would become a serpent (Ex. 7:9). When Pharaoh would not allow the Hebrews to leave Egypt, God told Moses to have Aaron stretch forth his rod over the Nile River, and it would turn to blood.
Following a succession of plagues, Pharaoh relented and let the people go, then Moses led them on their long journey to the Promised Land. In Chapter 17 of Exodus, the Hebrews fought Amalek in a battle at Rephidim. Moses stood atop a hill with the rod of God in his hand. As long as he raised his hand, the Hebrews prevailed, but when he became tired and lowered it, Amalek prevailed. Aaron and Hur sat Moses on a rock and held up his hands, one on each side. This was a prefiguration of the suffering of Christ, because the arms of Moses formed a cross. In the Greek Septuagint, the names Aaron and Hur begin with the letters Alpha and Omega, another reference to Christ (Revelation 1:8).
Aaron and his sons were anointed and sanctified to serve God as priests (Exodus chapter 29). In chapter 32, Aaron fell into temptation when Moses went up on Mount Sinai to receive the Commandments. Since Moses was taking a long time, the people grew restless and asked Aaron to make them a golden idol in the form of a calf so that they could offer sacrifices. He gave into them, and Moses was angry when he returned and saw them dancing and singing before the calf. He threw down the tablets on which God had written the Ten Commandments, and then he burned the golden calf and ground it to powder. He scattered the powder on the water, and he made the people drink it. When Moses asked those who were on the Lord’s side to gather around him, the Levites came to him. He ordered them to take their swords and slay their sons, companions, and neighbors. About three thousand people were killed that day.
Later, Aaron and Miriam criticized Moses for marrying a Cushite woman (Num. 12:1). God was angry with them, so He punished Miriam with leprosy. She was healed by God seven days after Moses interceded for her.
In chapter 17 of Numbers, the people murmured against Moses and Aaron, so God commanded that the leaders of the twelve tribes should have their names inscribed on their rods and placed in the tent of testimony. God would reveal His choice to make the people cease their grumbling against Moses and his brother. Aaron’s rod bloomed miraculously in the tent of the testimony, to show that he had been chosen for this purpose.
Aaron reposed atop Mount Hor when he was one hundred and twenty-three years old. One of his descendants was Saint Elizabeth, the mother of Saint John the Baptist (Luke 1:5).
The youngest son of Jacob, he was called Benoni and then Benjamin (Genesis 35:16-18). Before his death Jacob blessed him in a seemingly backhanded way, saying that “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf, devouring his prey in the morning, and dividing the spoil in the evening” (Genesis 49:27). Commentators say this is not a reference to Benjamin himself, but to the warlike nature of the tribe of Benjamin.
Information about the holy Prophetess and Judge Deborah may be found in the Book of Judges 4:5-14, and also chapter 5.
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Information about the Righteous Judith may be found in the Old Testament book bearing her name.
Saint Miriam, like her brothers Moses and Aaron, was descended from the tribe of Levi.
When Moses was an infant, the Hebrew midwives were ordered to kill any male child when they assisted at childbirths, but they refused to obey. Moses was hidden by his mother for three months, and then, when she could no longer do this, he was placed into a basket of reeds and set upon the waters of the Nile. Miriam watched in secret to see what would happen to him. When Pharaoh’s daughter found him, Miriam emerged from her place of concealment and offered to find a wet nurse from among the Hebrew women for the baby. Miriam went to get her mother, who raised her child until he was grown, and then returned him to Pharoah’s daughter (Exodus 2:10).
In the Torah, she is called “Miriam the Prophetess” (Exodus 15:20), while the Prophet Michah (6:4) has God say that He sent Moses, and Aaron, and Miriam before the Hebrews to lead them out of Egypt.
In Chapter 12 of the book of Numbers, Miriam and Aaron apparently criticize Moses for being married to a foreign woman of Cush (or an Ethiopian). This, however, was merely a pretext for their resentment. Actually, they were disturbed by Moses’ position as the sole mediator between God and the people. Miriam was a prophetess, after all. Miriam and Aaron questioned Moses, “Has the Lord spoken only to Moses? Has He not also spoken to us?” God then tells them that He speaks face to face with Moses, but only in visions to Miriam and Aaron while they are asleep. Then, for daring to speak against Moses, Miriam is punished with leprosy. Aaron pleads with Moses not to hold their sin against them, since they had acted out of ignorance. Even so, Miriam was set apart outside the camp for seven days, and then she was healed and allowed to come in.
In one of the stichera on the Praises for the Sunday before the Nativity, Sarah, Rebecca, Anna, and Miriam, “the glory of women,” are said to “exchange glad tidings.”
The Prophet Nathan was an advisor to King David and King Solomon. He is mentioned in the Prayer of Absolution in the Mystery of Confession: “It was God Who pardoned David through the Prophet Nathan when he had confessed his sin....” David had committed adultery with Uriah's wife Bathsheba, and had him killed. Then he took Bathsheba as his wife. David confessed his sin to Nathan (2 Samuel 12:13) and received pardon.
The Old Testament book of Nehemiah tells of how he returned from the Captivity in Babylon in the twentieth year of the Persian King Artaxerxes (445/444 B.C.) to rebuild Jerusalem and to govern the province. He and Ezra purified the Jewish people by making known the Law of Moses, and forcing the men to divorce their pagan wives.
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Rebecca was the wife of the Old Testament Patriarch Isaac, and the mother of Jacob and Esau. She is mentioned in Genesis 22:23; Chapters 24-28; and Chapter 49:31. Saint Paul also mentions her (Romans 9:10).
Sarah was the wife of the Old Testament Patriarch Abraham and the mother of Isaac. At first she was called Sarai, and her name was changed to Sarah (Genesis 17:15-16). The three men who visited Abraham at the oak of Mamre told her that she would conceive and have a son (Genesis 18:10). She did not believe them at first, since she and her husband were old, but they insisted that she would bear a son in the spring. Their prediction was fulfilled, and God did as He had promised (Genesis 21:1-3). Saint Andrew Rublev depicts the three men as angels in his most famous icon. Sarah is praised in the New Testament for her faith (Hebrews 11:11) and also for her obedience (I Peter 3:6).
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The 64-verse story of Susanna is found in the Septuagint Greek as a Preamble to the Book of Daniel. The Latin Vulgate, however, places the story of Susanna at the end of the Book of Daniel, which constitutes the book's thirteenth chapter.
Information about the Righteous Ruth, the wife of Boaz, may be found in the Old Testament book bearing her name.
Saint Mary is the mother of Saint Anna, and the grandmother of the Theotokos.
Saint Daniel the Stylite was born in the village of Bethara, near the city of Samosata in Mesopotamia. His mother Martha was childless for a long while and in her prayers she vowed that if she had a child, she would dedicate him to the Lord. Her prayers were heard, and Martha soon gave birth to a son, who was without a name until he was five years of age.
The boy’s parents desired that since he was born through the good-will of God, he should also receive his name from God. They took their son to a monastery located nearby and approached the igumen. The igumen gave orders to take down one of the service books, and unrolled it at random. He found the Prophet Daniel (December 17) mentioned in it. Thus did the boy receive his name. The parents asked that he might remain at the monastery, but the igumen would not accept him, since he was still only a small boy. At twelve years of age, saying nothing to anyone, the child left home for the monastery.
His parents were happy when they learned where their son was, and they went to the monastery. Seeing that he was still going about in his worldly clothes, they besought that the igumen should clothe him in the angelic garb. That Sunday the igumen fulfilled their request, but permitted them often to visit their son. The brethren of the monastery were astonished at the saint’s ascetical efforts.
Once, Saint Simeon the Stylite (September 1) visited the monastery. He foretold to the young monk that he too would undertake the feat of pillar-dwelling. Saint Daniel continued with his ascetic life in seclusion. When the place of a new exploit was revealed to him in a vision, he withdrew into the Thracian wilderness together with two disciples. They set up a pillar, upon which Saint Daniel dwelt for 33 years. People thronged to the pillar, the unfortunate and those who were sick, and all received help and healing from Saint Daniel. Byzantine emperors also sought the prayers of the holy ascetic. The most notable of the saint’s predictions was about a great fire in Constantinople. Saint Daniel possessed also the gift of gracious words. He guided many onto the path of correcting their lives. The monk reposed in his eightieth year.
Saint Nikon the Dry, the son of rich and illustrious parents, gave up everything for Christ and became a monk at the Kiev Caves monastery. In the year 1096, during the incursions of Khan Bonyak, he was taken into captivity with some other monks. The captors treated Saint Nikon harshly, while waiting for a ransom to be paid. When the saint refused to be ransomed, his masters began to torment him with hunger, and left him exposed in the heat of summer and the cold of winter. He was mistreated and beaten every day for about three years, for his captors thought he would change his mind and send word to his relatives, asking to be ransomed.
The saint gave thanks to God for everything, and once said to his tormentor that the Lord, through the prayers of Saints Anthony and Theodosius would return him to his monastery within three days, as Saint Eustratius (March 28) had predicted while appearing to him.
The captor cut the tendons in Saint Nikon’s legs and set a strong guard over him. But suddenly, on the third day at the sixth hour, the holy captive became invisible. At the moment the guard heard the words, “Praise the Lord from the Heavens” (Ps. 148).
Saint Nikon was transported to the Dormition church, where the Divine Liturgy was being served. The brethren surrounded him and began to ask how he got there. Saint Nikon wanted to conceal the miracle, but the brethren implored him to tell the truth.
Saint Nikon did not want to have his fetters removed, but the igumen said, “If the Lord had wanted you to remain fettered, He would not have delivered you from captivity.”
After a long while Saint Nikon’s former master came to the Kiev Caves monastery and recognized his former captive, who was withered from hunger and the loss of blood from his wounds. He came to believe in Christ, and accepted Baptism. After receiving monastic tonsure, he became a novice under Saint Nikon’s direction.
Saint Nikon died at the beginning of the twelfth century and was buried in the Near Caves. Though he did not enjoy good health in this life, his holy relics were glorified by incorruption. His memory is celebrated also on September 28 and on the second Sunday of Great Lent.
The Holy Martyr Mirax was born into a Christian family living in the city of Tanis (Egypt) during the seventh century. He was raised in piety, but yielded to demonic temptation and trampled on a cross. He went to the Emir, the ruler of Egypt, and taking his sword in hand, he declared himself a Moslem.
His parents, grieving over the terrible downfall of their son, incessantly prayed for him. And then the grace of God illumined the heart of the prodigal. He deeply repented and returned home. His parents counselled him to acknowledge his fall into darkness and to show his repentance. Saint Mirax obeyed them. He went before the Emir and announced that he had become a Christian once more. The ruler condemned him to tortures, after which the saint was beheaded and cast into the sea (this occurred around the year 640).
The Holy Martyrs Akepsimas and Aithalas were from Persia. Akepsimas was a pagan priest in the city of Arbel. Having received healing through the prayers of a Christian bishop, he was converted to the faith in Christ and boldly confessed it. For this they threw Saint Akepsimas into prison.
Soon after, Saint Aithalas, a deacon of the Arbel Church, was imprisoned with him. They brought the martyrs before the ruler, where they again confessed their faith and were beheaded.
Saint Luke the New Stylite was a soldier under the Byzantine emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitos (912-959). During a war with Bulgaria (917), Saint Luke remained unharmed through the Providence of God. After this he became a monk, and having succeeded in his efforts, was ordained as a presbyter. Striving for an even higher degree of perfection, the monk put chains upon himself and ascended a pillar.
After three years standing on the pillar, through divine inspiration, he went to Mount Olympos, and then to Constantinople, and finally to Chalcedon, where he chose a pillar upon which he remained for 45 years, manifesting a gift of wonderworking. He died in about the year 980.
Having examined the history of Georgia and the hagiographical treasures attesting to the faith of the Georgian nation, we become convinced that Heavenly Georgia— the legion of Georgian saints, extolling the Lord in the Heavenly Kingdom with a single voice—is infinitely glorious. It is unknown how many cleansed themselves of their earthly sins in merciless warfare with the enemy of Christ, or how many purified their souls in unheated cells through prayer, fasting, and ascetic labors.
To God alone are known the names of those ascetics, forgotten by history, who by their humble labors tirelessly forged the future of the Georgian Church and people.
St. George of the Holy Mountain wrote: “From the time we recognized the one true God, we have never renounced Him, nor have our people ever yielded to heresy.”
A decree of the Church Council of Ruisi-Urbnisi states: “We will not depart from thee, the Catholic Church which bore us in holiness, nor will we betray thee, our pride—Orthodoxy—to which we have always been faithful, for we have been granted the honor to know thee, the witness of the Truth Itself!” This relationship to Orthodoxy is the cornerstone of the life of every Georgian believer.
It is impossible to count the names of all those Christians who have been raised up from the earthly Church in Georgia to the heavens, let alone to describe all the godly deeds they have performed. For this reason December 11 has been set aside for the commemoration not only of the saints whose Lives are known to us but also of the nearly three hundred more whose names, but not stories, have been preserved as well.
Most Georgian people bear the name of a saint who is commemorated on this day, and they entreat the saint to intercede before the Lord in their behalf.