The Church continues to honor the passage of the Most Holy Theotokos from death to life. Just as Christ once dwelt in the virginal womb of His Mother, now He takes Her “to dwell in His courts.”
Saint Thaddeus, Apostle of the Seventy, was by descent a Hebrew, and he was born in the Syrian city of Edessa. The holy Apostle Thaddeus of the Seventy must be distinguished from Saint Jude, also called Thaddeus or Levi (June 19), who was one of the Twelve Apostles.
When he came to Jerusalem for a feastday, he heard the preaching of John the Forerunner. After being baptized by him in the Jordan, he remained in Palestine. He saw the Savior, and became His follower. He was chosen by the Lord to be one of the Seventy Disciples, whom He sent by twos to preach in the cities and places where He intended to visit (Luke. 10: 1).
After the Ascension of the Savior to Heaven, Saint Thaddeus preached the good news in Syria and Mesopotamia. He came preaching the Gospel to Edessa and he converted King Abgar, the people and the pagan priests to Christ. He backed up his preaching with many miracles (about which Abgar wrote to the Assyrian emperor Nerses). He established priests there and built up the Edessa Church.
Prince Abgar wanted to reward Saint Thaddeus with rich gifts, but he refused and went preaching to other cities, converting many pagans to the Christian Faith. He went to the city of Beirut to preach, and he founded a church there. It was in this city that he peacefully died in the year 44. (The place of his death is indicated as Beirut in the Slavonic MENAION, but according to other sources he died in Edessa. According to an ancient Armenian tradition, Saint Thaddeus, after various tortures, was beheaded by the sword on December 21 in the Artaz region in the year 50).
The Martyr Bassa with her sons Theognis, Agapius and Pistus, lived in the city of Macedonian Edessa and she was married to a pagan priest. From childhood she had been raised in the Christian Faith, which she passed on to her sons.
During the reign of the emperor Maximian Galerius (305-311), the husband denounced his wife and children to the governor. In spite of threats, the boys refused to offer sacrifice to idols, so they were tortured and put to death. The eldest son, Theognis, was raked with iron claws, then he was beheaded. The skin of the young Agapius was flayed from head to chest, but the martyr did not utter a sound. The youngest son Pistus was tortured and beheaded, just as his brothers had been. One account says that the three brothers suffered at Edessa in Macedonia. Another account says they died at Larissa in Thessaly, their homeland.
Saint Bassa was thrown into prison and was weakened by hunger, but an angel strengthened her with heavenly food. Under successive tortures she remained unharmed by fire, water and beasts. When they brought her to a pagan temple, she shattered the statue of Zeus. Then they threw the martyr into a whirlpool in the sea. But to everyone’s surprise a ship sailed up, and three radiant men pulled her up (Saint Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain (July 14) suggests that these were her children, martyred earlier). After eight days Saint Bassa came by ship to the governor of the island of Alona, not far from Cyzicus, in the Propontis or Sea of Marmora. After beating her with rods, they beheaded her.
By the year 450 there was already a church in honor of the holy martyr Bassa at Chalcedon.
Saint Abramius of Smolensk, a preacher of repentance and the Dread Last Judgment, was born in the mid-twelfth century at Smolensk of rich parents, who had twelve daughters before him, and they begged God for a son.
From childhood he grew up in the fear of God, he was often in church and had the opportunity to read books. The parents hoped that their only son would enter into marriage and continue their illustrious lineage, but he sought a different life. After the death of his parents, having given away all his wealth to monasteries, to churches and to the destitute, the saint walked through the city in rags, asking God to show him the way to salvation.
He was tonsured in the monastery of the Most Holy Theotokos, five versts from Smolensk, at Selischa. Having passed through various obediences there, the monk fervently occupied himself with copying books, culling spiritual riches from them. The Smolensk prince Roman Rostislavich (+ 1170) started a school in the city, in which they taught not only in Slavonic, but also from Greek and Latin books. The Prince himself had a large collection of books, which Saint Abramius used. He had struggled for more than 30 years at the monastery, when in the year 1198 the igumen persuaded him to accept the dignity of presbyter. Every day he served the Divine Liturgy and fulfilled the obedience of clergy not only for the brethren, but also for the laity.
Soon the monk became widely known. This aroused the envy of the brethren, and then of the igumen also, and five years later, the monk was compelled to transfer to the Exaltation of the Cross monastery in Smolensk itself. With offerings from the devout, he embellished the cathedral church of the poor monastery with icons, and with curtains and candle-stands. He himself painted two icons on themes which most concerned him. On one he depicted the Dread Last judgment, and on the other the suffering of the trials of life. Lean and pale from extreme toil, in priestly garb the ascetic resembled Saint Basil the Great in appearance. The saint was strict both towards himself, and towards his spiritual children. He preached constantly in church and to those coming to him in his cell, conversing with rich and poor alike.
The city notables and the clergy demanded that Bishop Ignatius bring the monk to trial, accusing him of seducing women and tempting his spiritual children. But even more terrible were the accusations of heresy and the reading of forbidden books. For this they proposed to drown or burn the ascetic. At the trial by the Prince and the Bishop, the saint answered all the false accusations. Despite this, they forbade him to serve as a priest and returned him to his former monastery of the Most Holy Theotokos . A terrible drought occurred in consequence of God’s wrath over the unjust sentence, and only when Saint Ignatius pardoned Saint Abramius, permitting him to serve and preach, did the rain again fall on Smolensk.
The bishop Saint Ignatius built a new monastery, in honor of the Placing of the Robe of the Most Holy Theotokos, and he entrusted the guidance of it to Saint Abramius, and he himself settled into it, retiring from the diocese because of age. Many wished to enter under the guidance of Saint Abramius, but he examined them very intensely and only after great investigation, so at his monastery there were only seventeen brethren. Saint Abramius, after the death of Saint Ignatius, having become his spiritual friend, urged the brethren, more than before, to think about death and to pray day and night, that they be not condemned in the Judgment by God.
Saint Abramius died after the year 1224, having spent 50 years in monasticism. Already at the end of the thirteenth century a service had been compiled to him, together with his disciple Saint Ephraim. The terrible Mongol-Tatar invasion, seen as the wrath of God for the nation’s sins, not only did not stifle the memory of Saint Abramius of Smolensk, but rather was a reminder to people of his calling to repentance and recollection of the dread Last Judgment.
Saint Ephraim was the disciple of Saint Abramius of Smolensk. He compiled the Life of Saint Abramius, which provides many details about education in the remote northwestern part of Russia in those days.
It is hard to determine precisely when Saint Abraham and the other saints of the Caves lived because of the scarcity of written records. It is likely, though not certain, that they lived during the Mongol-Tatar invasions in the XIII century.
In the Teraturgim of Hieromonk Athanasius (Kalophoisky), dating back to the XVII century, Saint Abraham is called “Venerable Elder Abraham, the Lover of Labor.” Archbishop Philaret (Gumilevsky) said that “toward the end of his life, he toiled in a cave. After praying here he worked to prepare everything necessary for the Brotherhood of the Caves, which earned him the title ‘Lover of Labor.’”
Archbishop Sergius (Spassky) suggests that Saint Abraham lived during the XII-XIII centuries. On the other hand, the Orthodox Encyclopedia places his life between the second half of the XIII century and the beginning of the XIV century. His holy relics rest in the Near Caves of Saint Anthony.
On an ancient icon of the wonderworkers of the Near Caves Saint Anthony is called an Igoumen. He is described in the same way in a manuscript list of saints. If that is so, then he buried Prince Skirigail (John), who was killed by his own servants in Vyshgorod in 1396, near the tomb of Saint Theodosios (May 3).
Saint Abraham the Lover of Labor has long been commemorated on August 21, the same day as Saint Abraham of Smolensk.
Saint Abraham the Lover of Labor is also commemorated on September 28, the Synaxis of all the Venerable Fathers of the Kiev Caves Monastery, whose relics lie in the Near Caves of Saint Anthony. We also remember Saint Abraham on the Second Sunday of Great Lent, the Synaxis of all the Venerable Fathers of the Kiev Caves (which is a movable Feast).
The chronicles listing the generations of chief shepherds of Georgia reveal that Saint Sarmean was leader of the Georgian Apostolic Church from the year 767 (or 760, according to some sources) until the year 774. These were years of Arab-Muslim rule in Georgia. The Arabs persecuted the Christians, oppressed those who served in the Church, and tried in every way to convert the country to Islam. Despite the frightful abuses that the faithful endured and the transformation of the city into a residence for the emir, many Tbilisi churches continued to function.
Sarmean was a firm defender of Orthodoxy. Once, however, on Cheese-fare Thursday at Shio-MgvimeMonastery, a group of strangers bearing gifts arrived at the monastery. He served Holy Communion to them without ever inquiring into their faith. Later he learned that they were Jacobites (members of one of the Monophysite churches).
His carelessness was revealed to him in a dream that same night.
When he awoke the next morning, Catholicos Sarmean summoned the bishops, confessed his mistake, burned the gifts that the Jacobites had given him before their eyes, and departed for an isolated cave, where he wept over his sin with bitter tears.
But the All-merciful Lord sent a sign to Saint Sarmean to inform him that his transgression had been forgiven. The bishops sent him a message from Mtskheta: “O Great Sovereign Patriarch Sarmean! Rejoice! We, your spiritual children, believers in your holiness, the entire council of bishops, wish to inform you that Saint Shio has appeared and told each of the five of us that the Lord has remitted your sin. Make haste and summon us to the monastery, that we may give thanks together to our Holy Father Shio!”
Holy Catholicos Sarmean, divinely endowed with humility, faith, love, and the fear of God, led his flock wisely to the end of his days and reposed peacefully in the year 774.
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Saint Cornelius of Paleostrov and Olonets, born at Pskov, was the founder of monastic life on Pali island in Lake Onega at the end of the fourteenth century. Despite the desolation of the island, brethren soon gathered near him. He built for them a church in honor of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos, and a trapeza church in honor of the holy Prophet Elias.
The saint spent the final years of his life in a cave half a verst from the monastery, in unceasing prayer. The ascetic added the wearing of heavy chains to his struggles.
The saint’s blessed repose occurred around the year 1420. His relics were transferred to the monastery church by his disciple, Saint Abramius of Paleostrov (August 21), who was also glorified by his ascetical life, and was buried in the Paleostrov monastery beside his Elder.
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