Lives of all saints commemorated on April 9


Great and Holy Thursday

THURSDAY: The Last Supper

Two events shape the liturgy of Great and Holy Thursday: the Last Supper of Christ with His disciples, and the betrayal of Judas. The meaning of both is in love. The Last Supper is the ultimate revelation of God’s redeeming love for man, of love as the very essence of salvation. And the betrayal of Judas reveals that sin, death and self-destruction are also due to love, but to deviated and distorted love, love directed at that which does not deserve love. Here is the mystery of this unique day, and its liturgy, where light and darkness, joy and sorrow are so strangely mixed, challenges us with the choice on which depends the eternal destiny of each one of us. “Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour was come... having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end...” (John 13:1). To understand the meaning of the Last Supper we must see it as the very end of the great movement of Divine Love which began with the creation of the world and is now to be consummated in the death and resurrection of Christ.

God is Love (1 John 4:8). And the first gift of Love was life. The meaning, the content of life was communion. To be alive man was to eat and to drink, to partake of the world. The world was thus Divine love made food, made Body of man. And being alive, i.e. partaking of the world, man was to be in communion with God, to have God as the meaning, the content and the end of his life. Communion with the God-given world was indeed communion with God. Man received his food from God and making it his body and his life, he offered the whole world to God, transformed it into life in God and with God. The love of God gave life to man, the love of man for God transformed this life into communion with God. This was paradise. Life in it was, indeed, eucharistic. Through man and his love for God the whole creation was to be sanctified and transformed into one all-embracing sacrament of Divine Presence and man was the priest of this sacrament.

But in sin man lost this eucharistic life. He lost it because he ceased to see the world as a means of Communion with God and his life as eucharist, as adoration and thanksgiving. . . He loves himself and the world for their own sake; he made himself the content and the end of his life. He thought that his hunger and thirst, i.e. his dependence of his life on the world—can be satisfied by the world as such, by food as such. But world and food, once they are deprived of their initial sacramental meaning—as means of communion with God, once they are not received for God’s sake and filled with hunger and thirst for God, once, in other words, God is no longer their real “content,” can give no life, satisfy no hunger, for they have no life in themselves... And thus by putting his love in them, man deviated his love from the only object of all love, of all hunger, of all desires. And he died. For death is the inescapable “decomposition” of life cut from its only source and content. Man thought to find life in the world and in food, but he found death. His life became communion with death, for instead of transforming the world by faith, love, and adoration into communion with God, he submitted himself entirely to the world, he ceased to be its priest and became its slave. And by his sin the whole world was made a cemetery, where people condemned to death partook of death and “sat in the region and shadow of death” (Matt. 4:16).

But if man betrayed, God remained faithful to man. He did not “turn Himself away forever from His creature whom He had made, neither did He forget the works of His hands, but He visited him in diverse manners, through the tender compassion of His mercy” (Liturgy of Saint Basil). A new Divine work began, that of redemption and salvation. And it was fulfilled in Christ, the Son of God Who in order to restore man to his pristine beauty and to restore life as communion with God, became Man, took upon Himself our nature, with its thirst and hunger, with its desire for and love of, life. And in Him life was revealed, given, accepted and fulfilled as total and perfect Eucharist, as total and perfect communion with God. He rejected the basic human temptation: to live “by bread alone”; He revealed that God and His kingdom are the real food, the real life of man. And this perfect eucharistic Life, filled with God, and, therefore Divine and immortal, He gave to all those who would believe in Him, i,e. find in Him the meaning and the content of their lives. Such is the wonderful meaning of the Last Supper. He offered Himself as the true food of man, because the Life revealed in Him is the true Life. And thus the movement of Divine Love which began in paradise with a Divine “take, eat. ..” (for eating is life for man) comes now “unto the end” with the Divine “take, eat, this is My Body...” (for God is life of man). The Last Supper is the restoration of the paradise of bliss, of life as Eucharist and Communion.

But this hour of ultimate love is also that of the ultimate betrayal. Judas leaves the light of the Upper Room and goes into darkness. “And it was night” (John 13:30). Why does he leave? Because he loves, answers the Gospel, and his fateful love is stressed again and again in the hymns of Holy Thursday. It does not matter indeed, that he loves the “silver.” Money stands here for all the deviated and distorted love which leads man into betraying God. It is, indeed, love stolen from God and Judas, therefore, is the Thief. When he does not love God and in God, man still loves and desires, for he was created to love and love is his nature, but it is then a dark and self-destroying passion and death is at its end. And each year, as we immerse ourselves into the unfathomable light and depth of Holy Thursday, the same decisive question is addressed to each one of us: do I respond to Christ’s love and accept it as my life, do I follow Judas into the darkness of his night?

The liturgy of Holy Thursday includes: a) Matins, b) Vespers and, following Vespers, the Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great. In the Cathedral Churches the special service of the Washing of Feet takes place after the Liturgy; while the deacon reads the Gospel, the Bishop washes the feet of twelve priests, reminding us that Christ’s love is the foundation of life in the Church and shapes all relations within it. It is also on Holy Thursday that Holy Chrism is consecrated by the primates of autocephalous Churches, and this also means that the new love of Christ is the gift we receive from the Holy Spirit on the day of our entrance into the Church.

At Matins the Troparion sets the theme of the day: the opposition between the love of Christ and the “insatiable desire” of Judas.

“When the glorious disciples were illumined by washing at the Supper,
Then was the impious Judas darkened with the love of silver
And to the unjust judges does he betray Thee, the just Judge.
Consider, 0 Lover of money, him who hanged himself because of it.
Do not follow the insatiable desire which dared this against the Master,
0 Lord, good to all, glory to Thee.”

After the Gospel reading (Luke 12:1-40) we are given the contemplation, the mystical and eternal meaning of the Last Supper in the beautiful canon of Saint Cosmas. Its last “irmos,” (Ninth Ode) invites us to share in the hospitality of the Lord’s banquet:

“Come, 0 ye faithful
Let us enjoy the hospitality of the Lord and the banquet of immortality
In the upper chamber with minds uplifted....”

At Vespers, the stichira on “Lord, I have cried” stress the spiritual anticlimax of Holy Thursday, the betrayal of Judas:

“Judas the slave and Knave,
The disciple and traitor,
The friend and fiend,
Was proved by his deeds,
For, as he followed the Master,
Within himself he contemplated His betrayal....”

After the Entrance, three lessons from the Old Testament:

1) Exodus 19: 10-19. God’s descent from Mount Sinai to His people as the image of God’s coming in the Eucharist.

2) Job 38:1-23, 42:1-5, God’s conversation with Job and Job’s answer: “who will utter to me what I understand not? Things too great and wonderful for me, which I knew not...”—and these “great and wonderful things” are fulfilled in the gift of Christ’s Body and Blood.

3) Isaiah 50:4-11. The beginning of the prophecies on the suffering servant of God,

The Epistle reading is from I Corinthians 11:23-32: Saint Paul’s account of the Last Supper and the meaning of communion.

The Gospel reading (the longest of the year is taken from all four Gospels and is the full story of the Last Supper, the betrayal of Judas and Christ’s arrest in the garden.

The Cherubic hymn and the hymn of Communion are replaced by the words of the prayer before Communion:

“Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant,
For I will not speak of Thy Mystery to Thine enemies,
Neither like Judas will I give Thee a kiss;
But like the thief will I confess Thee:
Remember me, O Lord, in Thy Kingdom.”

by The Very Rev. Alexander Schmemann, S.T.D.
Professor of Liturgical Theology, Saint Vladimir’s Seminary


Martyr Eupsychius of Caesarea, in Cappadocia

The Holy Martyr Eupsychius was born in the city of Caesarea in Cappadocia and received a Christian upbringing by his illustrious parents.

During the reign of Julian the Apostate (361-363), Saint Eupsychius entered into a Christian marriage.

At Caesarea there was a pagan temple to the goddess Fortuna, whom Julian the Apostate revered. As Eupsychius was going to his wedding, the pagans were offering sacrifice to the goddess Fortuna.

Saint Eupsychius was filled with zeal for the Lord, and he destroyed the temple. He knew that this would inevitably result in his punishment. Saint Eupsychius distributed all his possessions to the poor and prepared himself for martyrdom.

The enraged emperor Julian loosed his wrath not only upon Saint Eupsychius, but against all the inhabitants of this city. Some of the citizens were executed, while the more respectable were sent into exile. Christian clergy were drafted into military service, and he looted the churches of anything valuable. The city was deprived of its title Caesarea [i.e. “Imperial”] and resumed its original name of Maza. He also imposed a severe tax on the inhabitants. The emperor threatened to annihilate the city altogether, if the people did not build a new pagan temple in place of the one destroyed.

Julian tried to compel Saint Eupsychius to offer sacrifice to idols. For many days they tormented the saint on a rack, and also with iron claws. But his faith was firm, and the judge sentenced the martyr to be beheaded with a sword.

Then Julian embarked on a campaign against the Persians, marching through Cappadocia and approaching Caesarea. Danger threatened the city, since the emperor intended to raze it to its foundations. But then Saint Basil the Great (January 1), showing Julian the proper respect as sovereign authority, came out to meet him carrying with him three loaves of barley bread, which he ate. The emperor ordered his retainers to take the loaves, and to give Saint Basil a pinch of hay saying, “You have given us barley, cattle fodder. Now receive hay from us in return.”

The saint answered, “O Emperor, we bring you that which we ourselves eat, and you give us cattle feed. You mock us, since you, by your might, are not able to transform hay into bread, the essential food of mankind.”

Julian angrily retorted, “I’ll shove this hay down your throat when I return here from Persia. I shall raze this city to its very foundations, and plow over this ground and turn it into a field. I know that it was on your advice that the people dared to destroy the statues and temple of Fortuna.”

After this the emperor continued on his way, but soon perished in his campaign against the Persians. He was struck down in the year 363 by the holy Great Martyr Mercurius (November 24).

After the emperor’s demise, the Christians of the city of Caesarea built a splendid church over the grave of Saint Eupsychius, and from his holy relics they received help and healing.


Hieromartyr Desan, Bishop in Persia, and 272 others with him

The Holy Martyrs Bishop Desan, Presbyter Mariabus, Abdiesus, and 270 others were put to death under the Persian emperor Sapor II. Imprisoned, they refused to turn away from the Christian Faith. In their number also was the Martyr Ia, who is commemorated also on September 11.


Monastic Martyr Bademus (Vadim) of Persia

Monk Martyr Archimandrite Bademus (Vadim) was born in the fourth century in the Persian city of Bithlapata, and was descended from a rich and illustrious family. In his youth, he was enlightened with the Christian teaching. The saint gave away all his wealth to the poor and withdrew into the wilderness, where he founded a monastery. He would go up on a mountain for solitary prayer, and once was permitted to behold the Glory of God.

During this period the Persian emperor Sapor (310-381) began to persecute Christians. They arrested Saint Bademus and his seven disciples, and tortured them in prison, hoping that they would renounce Christ and worship the sun and fire. But Saint Bademus and his disciples held firmly to the Christian Faith. The confessors spent four months in jail. All this time Saint Bademus was a spiritual leader and support for the Christians living in Persia.

One of the associates of the emperor Sapor, Nirsanes, was a Christian and suffered imprisonment for this. He did not hold up under torture and denied Christ, promising to fulfill whatever the emperor commanded. Sapor demanded that Nirsanes personally cut off the head of Saint Bademus. For this he was promised a reprieve and great rewards. Nirsanes was not able to overcome his fear of new tortures, and he agreed to follow the path of betrayal walked by Judas.

When they brought Saint Bademus to him, he took the sword and turned toward him, but overcome by conscience, he trembled and stood petrified. Saint Bademus said to him, “Has your wickedness now reached this point, Nirsanes, that you should not only renounce God, but also murder His servants? Woe to you, accursed one! What will you do on that day when you stand before the Dread Judgment Seat? What answer will you give to God? I am prepared to die for Christ, but I don’t want to receive death at your hands.”

Nirsanes struck with the sword, but his hands shook, and he could not behead the saint immediately, and the fire-worshippers began to call him a coward. The holy martyr Bademus stood motionless, enduring many terrible blows, until the murderer succeeded in cutting off his head.

The just punishment for his misdeeds were not slow in overtaking the hapless fellow. Tormented by his conscience, he did away with himself, throwing himself on a sword. After the death of the emperor Sapor, the seven disciples of Saint Bademus were released from prison.


Saint Eleni (also called Susanna), New Martyr of Lesbos

Saint Eleni (who was also called Susanna) is one of the New Martyrs of Lesbos who are commemorated on Bright Tuesday. She was Saint Irene’s older cousin, and suffered along with Saints Raphael, Nicholas, and Irene on April 9, 1463 (Bright Tuesday).

On November 12, 1961 Mrs. Basilike Rallis had a dream in which she saw herself by the church at Karyes near the town of Thermi on the Greek island of Lesbos. As she looked inside the church, she saw a young girl about fourteen or fifteen years old, with a dark complexion and dark hair. Since the girl was praying, Mrs Rallis also began to pray. The girl turned to her and said, “Do you know who I am? I am a martyr. Not like Renoula (a diminutive form of Irene), of course, but if you only knew what I endured! I lived with the mayor’s family, and I was also with them when the Turks tortured them here. They mistreated me and gave me such a horrible beating that I died from the pains. My name is Eleni.”

The saint also told Mrs Rallis about an icon of the Mother of God that she had been asking about, revealing to her the place where it would be found.

When she awoke, Mrs Rallis was reluctant to mention this dream to anyone. She said to herself, “If there really is another martyr named Eleni, I’ll see her again. Maybe someone else will see her, too, then I’ll tell. But who was this Eleni who lived with the mayor’s family? Perhaps she was their servant.”

The next night, she dreamed that she was in the village church. She saw three clerics coming out through the left door of the altar. She made the Sign of the Cross at once, for she thought that Satan might be tempting her. Then she saw the three clerics make the Sign of the Cross, too. They looked at her and smiled as they slowly proceeded to the center of the church.

“I recognized Saint Raphael and Saint Nicholas right away,” Mrs Rallis recalled, “but did not know the other saint. He was tall, middle-aged with a long grey beard and a lordly air about him.”

At that moment, a girl with a round face came out by the same door. She was beautiful, and she wore a rose-colored dress. Mrs Rallis approached her and, kneeling before her, she asked, “Are you also a saint?”

“Yes,” the girl replied. “Sit down beside me, watch quietly and I will explain some things to you.”

Then other people began to come out from the same door and approached the saints. First, a man of medium height with civilian clothes and a long grey jacket. The girl said to Mrs Rallis, “The teacher, Theodore.” He was followed by another well-formed man. The saint said, “The mayor, Basil (Saint Irene’s father).” Then a tall, stout woman of about forty came forth with two girls whom Mrs Rallis recognized at once.They were Saints Irene and Eleni, of whom she had dreamt the night before.

The unknown saint who had appeared with Saints Raphael and Nicholas identified the tall woman as Maria, the mayor’s wife, and the two girls as Renoula and Eleni. He asked Mrs Rallis, “Why, when you dreamed about her last evening, did you say that you would not say anything about it to anyone? Eleni is also a martyr, and she wishes to be remembered. She was not the mayor’s servant, but his orphaned niece who lived with them. Her proper name, which she signed on papers, was Eleni. However, they also called her Susanna. She also had that name.”

Mrs Rallis slowly approached Saint Irene. She embraced her and began to weep, saying, “O Renoula, my tortured little girl, how could these heartless evil-doers burn you?” Then Saint Irene also started to cry.

When Mrs Rallis woke up, her eyes were filled with tears, and she thought that she would faint. So powerful was the dream that she later said, “Ah, that tortured child! How I ached for her! Every time I go to Karyes I will sit by her little tomb and I will mourn as if she were my own child. Just think, they tortured the child in front of her father, in front of her mother who bore her. It seems to me that there does not exist a more terrible martyrdom for parents.”

The Newly-Appeared Martyrs of Lesbos are also commemorated on April 9. Detailed accounts of these saints may be found in A GREAT SIGN (in Greek) by Photios Kontoglou (Astir, 1964).


New Martyrs Raphael, Nicholas, and Irine of Lesbos

Newly-Appeared Martyrs of Lesbos, Saints Raphael, Nicholas and Irene were martyred by the Turks on Bright Tuesday (April 9, 1463) ten years after the Fall of Constantinople. For nearly 500 years, they were forgotten by the people of Lesbos, but “the righteous Judge... opened the things that were hid” (2 Macc. 12:41).

For centuries the people of Lesbos would go on Bright Tuesday to the ruins of a monastery near Thermi, a village northwest of the capital, Mytilene. As time passed, however, no one could remember the reason for the annual pilgrimage. There was a vague recollection that once there had been a monastery on that spot, and that the monks had been killed by the Turks.

In 1959, a pious man named Angelos Rallis decided to build a chapel near the ruins of the monastery. On July 3 of that year, workmen discovered the relics of Saint Raphael while clearing the ground. Soon, the saints began appearing to various inhabitants of Lesbos and revealed the details of their lives and martyrdom. These accounts form the basis of Photios Kontoglou’s 1962 book A GREAT SIGN (in Greek).

Saint Raphael was born on the island of Ithaka around 1410, and was raised by pious parents. His baptismal name was George, but he was named Raphael when he became a monk. He was ordained to the holy priesthood, and later attained the offices of Archimandrite and Chancellor.

In 1453, Saint Raphael was living in Macedonia with his fellow monastic, the deacon Nicholas, a native of Thessalonica. In 1454, the Turks invaded Thrace, so the two monks fled to the island of Lesbos. They settled in the Monastery of the Nativity of the Theotokos near Thermi, where Saint Raphael became the igumen.

In the spring of 1463, the Turks raided the monastery and captured the monks. They were tortured from Holy Thursday until Bright Tuesday. Saint Raphael was tied to a tree, and the ferocious Turks sawed through his jaw, killing him. Saint Nicholas was also tortured, and he died while witnessing his Elder’s martyrdom. He appeared to people and indicated the spot where his relics were uncovered on June 13, 1960.

Saint Irene was the twelve-year-old daughter of the village mayor, Basil. She and her family had come to the monastery to warn the monks of the invasion. The cruel Hagarenes cut off one of her arms and threw it down in front of her parents. Then the pure virgin was placed in a large earthen cask and a fire was lit under it, suffocating her within. These torments took place before the eyes of her parents, who were also put to death. Her grave and the earthen cask were found on May 12, 1961 after Saints Raphael, Nicholas and Irene had appeared to people and told them where to look.

Others who also received the crown of martyrdom on that day were Saint Irene’s parents Basil and Maria; Theodore, the village teacher; and Eleni, the fifteen-year-old cousin of Saint Irene.

The saints appeared separately and together, telling people that they wished to be remembered. They asked that their icon be painted, that a church service be composed for them, and they indicated the place where their holy relics could be found. Based on the descriptions of those who had seen the saints, the master iconographer Photios Kontoglou painted their icon. The ever-memorable Father Gerasimos of Little Saint Anne Skete on Mt Athos composed their church service.

Many miracles have taken place on Lesbos, and throughout the world. The saints hasten to help those who invoke them, healing the sick, consoling the sorrowful, granting relief from pain, and bringing many unbelievers and impious individuals back to the Church.

Saint Raphael is tall, middle-aged, and has a beard of moderate length. His hair is black with some grey in it. His face is majestic, expressive, and filled with heavenly grace. Saint Nicholas is short and thin, with a small blond beard. He stands before Saint Raphael with great respect. Saint Irene usually appears with a long yellow dress reaching to her feet. Her blonde hair is divided into two braids which rest on either side of her chest.

Saints Raphael, Nicholas, and Irene (and those with them) are also commemorated on Bright Tuesday. Dr. Constantine Cavarnos has given a detailed account of their life, miracles, and spiritual counsels in Volume 10 of his inspirational series Modern Orthodox Saints (Belmont, MA, 1990).