Lives of all saints commemorated on May 29


Sunday of the Samaritan Woman

The Holy Martyr Photina (Svetlana) the Samaritan Woman, her sons Victor (named Photinus) and Joses; and her sisters Anatola, Phota, Photis, Paraskeva, Kyriake; Nero’s daughter Domnina; and the Martyr Sebastian: The holy Martyr Photina was the Samaritan Woman, with whom the Savior conversed at Jacob’s Well (John. 4:5-42).

During the time of the emperor Nero (54-68), who displayed excessive cruelty against Christians, Saint Photina lived in Carthage with her younger son Joses and fearlessly preached the Gospel there. Her eldest son Victor fought bravely in the Roman army against barbarians, and was appointed military commander in the city of Attalia (Asia Minor). Later, Nero called him to Italy to arrest and punish Christians.

Sebastian, an official in Italy, said to Saint Victor, “I know that you, your mother and your brother, are followers of Christ. As a friend I advise you to submit to the will of the emperor. If you inform on any Christians, you will receive their wealth. I shall write to your mother and brother, asking them not to preach Christ in public. Let them practice their faith in secret.”

Saint Victor replied, “I want to be a preacher of Christianity like my mother and brother.” Sebastian said, “O Victor, we all know what woes await you, your mother and brother.” Then Sebastian suddenly felt a sharp pain in his eyes. He was dumbfounded, and his face was somber.

For three days he lay there blind, without uttering a word. On the fourth day he declared, “The God of the Christians is the only true God.” Saint Victor asked why Sebastian had suddenly changed his mind. Sebastian replied, “Because Christ is calling me.” Soon he was baptized, and immediately regained his sight. Saint Sebastian’s servants, after witnessing the miracle, were also baptized.

Reports of this reached Nero, and he commanded that the Christians be brought to him at Rome. Then the Lord Himself appeared to the confessors and said, “Fear not, for I am with you. Nero, and all who serve him, will be vanquished.” The Lord said to Saint Victor, “From this day forward, your name will be Photinus, because through you, many will be enlightened and will believe in Me.” The Lord then told the Christians to strengthen and encourage Saint Sebastian to peresevere until the end.

All these things, and even future events, were revealed to Saint Photina. She left Carthage in the company of several Christians and joined the confessors in Rome.

At Rome the emperor ordered the saints to be brought before him and he asked them whether they truly believed in Christ. All the confessors refused to renounce the Savior. Then the emperor gave orders to smash the martyrs’ finger joints. During the torments, the confessors felt no pain, and their hands remained unharmed.

Nero ordered that Saints Sebastian, Photinus and Joses be blinded and locked up in prison, and Saint Photina and her five sisters Anatola, Phota, Photis, Paraskeva and Kyriake were sent to the imperial court under the supervision of Nero’s daughter Domnina. Saint Photina converted both Domnina and all her servants to Christ. She also converted a sorcerer, who had brought her poisoned food to kill her.

Three years passed, and Nero sent to the prison for one of his servants, who had been locked up. The messengers reported to him that Saints Sebastian, Photinus and Joses, who had been blinded, had completely recovered, and that people were visiting them to hear their preaching, and indeed the whole prison had been transformed into a bright and fragrant place where God was glorified.

Nero then gave orders to crucify the saints, and to beat their naked bodies with straps. On the fourth day the emperor sent servants to see whether the martyrs were still alive. But, approaching the place of the tortures, the servants fell blind. An angel of the Lord freed the martyrs from their crosses and healed them. The saints took pity on the blinded servants, and restored their sight by their prayers to the Lord. Those who were healed came to believe in Christ and were soon baptized.

In an impotent rage Nero gave orders to flay the skin from Saint Photina and to throw the martyr down a well. Sebastian, Photinus and Joses had their legs cut off, and they were thrown to dogs, and then had their skin flayed off. The sisters of Saint Photina also suffered terrible torments. Nero gave orders to cut off their breasts and then to flay their skin. An expert in cruelty, the emperor readied the fiercest execution for Saint Photis: they tied her by the feet to the tops of two bent-over trees. When the ropes were cut the trees sprang upright and tore the martyr apart. The emperor ordered the others beheaded. Saint Photina was removed from the well and locked up in prison for twenty days.

After this Nero had her brought to him and asked if she would now relent and offer sacrifice to the idols. Saint Photina spit in the face of the emperor, and laughing at him, said, “O most impious of the blind, you profligate and stupid man! Do you think me so deluded that I would consent to renounce my Lord Christ and instead offer sacrifice to idols as blind as you?”

Hearing such words, Nero gave orders to again throw the martyr down the well, where she surrendered her soul to God (ca. 66).

On the Greek Calendar, Saint Photina is commemorated on February 26.


Virginmartyr Theodosia of Tyre

Saint Theodosia of Tyre lived during the third and fourth centuries. Once, during a persecution against Christians, which had already lasted for five years, the seventeen-year-old Theodosia went up to condemned Christian prisoners in the Praetorium in Caesarea, Palestine. It was the day of Holy Pascha, and the martyrs spoke about the Kingdom of God. Saint Theodosia asked them to remember her before the Lord, when they should come to stand before Him.

Soldiers saw that the maiden bowed to the prisoners, and they seized her and led her before the governor, Urban. The governor advised the maiden to offer sacrifice to the idols but she refused, confessing her faith in Christ. Then they subjected the saint to cruel tortures, raking her body with iron claws until her bones were exposed.

The martyr was silent and endured the sufferings with a happy face, and to a second suggestion by the governor to offer sacrifice to the idols she answered, “You fool, I have been granted to join the martyrs!” They threw the maiden with a stone about her neck into the sea, but angels drew her out from the depths. Then they threw the martyr to the wild beasts to be eaten by them. Seeing that the beasts would not touch her, they cut off her head.

By night Saint Theodosia appeared to her parents, who had tried to talk their daughter into not going to the sufferings. She was in bright garb with a crown upon her head and a luminous gold cross in her hand, and she said, “Behold the great glory of which you wanted to deprive me!”

The Holy Martyr Theodosia of Tyre suffered for Christ in the year 307 or 308. On May 29 we commemorate the transfer of her relics to Constantinople and Venice. She is also commemorated on April 3.


Repose of the Blessed John of Ustiug the Fool-for-Christ

Blessed John, Fool-for-Christ, Ustiug Wonderworker, was born in the village of Pukhovo, near Old Ustiug, of pious parents Sava and Maria. From his youth he distinguished himself by a strict life of fasting. On Wednesdays and Fridays he ate nothing, and on other days he ate only bread and water. His parents moved to the city of Orlets along the River Iug, forty versts from Ustiug. Left widowed, the saint’s mother took monastic tonsure at the Orletsk Trinity monastery. The young John started by keeping silence, and then he embraced the struggle of foolishness for the sake of Christ.

Going about the city of Ustiug, he lived in a hut that had been built for him, and spent his nights at unceasing prayer. By day, however, he went about the streets of the city barefoot and in rags all year long, resting sometimes on a dung heap. He endured much abuse and derision from the people of the city.

During his life, the saint had been granted a gift of wonderworking. He died at a young age on May 29, 1494, and was buried near the Dormition cathedral in the city of Ustiug. Afterwards, a church dedicated to him was built over his relics.

The Service to Blessed John of Ustiug was composed in the sixteenth century. His life was written in 1554, based on the recollections of people who had known him. The holy ascetic was famed as an intercessor during invasions of enemies, and as a healer of those afflicted with various maladies.


Virginmartyr Theodosia the Nun of Constantinople

The Virgin Martyr Theodosia of Constantinople lived during the eighth century. She was born in answer to the fervent prayers of her parents. After their death, she was raised at the women’s monastery of the holy Martyr Anastasia in Constantinople. Saint Theodosia became a nun after she distributed to the poor of what remained of her parental inheritance. She used part of the money to commission gold and silver icons of the Savior, the Theotokos, and Saint Anastasia.

When Leo the Isaurian (717-741) ascended the imperial throne, he issued an edict to destroy holy icons everywhere. Above the Bronze Gates at Constantinople was a bronze icon of the Savior, which had been there for more than 400 years. In 730, the iconoclast Patriarch Anastasius ordered the icon removed.

The Virgin Martyr Theodosia and other women rushed to protect the icon and toppled the ladder with the soldier who was carrying out the command. Then they stoned the impious Patriarch Anastasius, and Emperor Leo ordered soldiers to behead the women. Saint Theodosia, an ardent defender of icons, was locked up in prison. For a week they gave her a hundred lashes each day. On the eighth day, they led her about the city, fiercely beating her along the way. One of the soldiers stabbed the nun in the throat with a ram’s horn, and she received the crown of martyrdom.

The body of the holy virgin martyr was reverently buried by Christians in the monastery of Saint Euphemia in Constantinople, near a place called Dexiokratis. The tomb of Saint Theodosia was glorified by numerous healings of the sick.


Icon of the Mother of God “the Surety of sinners”

The Icon of the Mother of God “Surety of Sinners” is known by this name because of the inscription on the icon: “I am the Surety of sinners for My Son Who has entrusted Me to hear them, and those who bring Me the joy of hearing them will receive eternal joy through Me.” The Mother of God embraces Her Child, Who holds Her right hand with both His hands so that Her thumb is in His right hand, and Her small finger in His left hand. This is the gesture of one who gives surety for another.

Although we do not know when or by whom the icon was originally painted, it is believed that the basis of the icon is to be found in the Akathist to the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos: “Rejoice, You Who offer Your hands in surety for us to God.”

This icon was first glorified by miracles at the Saint Nicholas Odrino men’s monastery of the former Orlov gubernia in the mid-nineteenth century (The “Assuage My Sorrows Icon” commemorated on October 9 is also from this monastery). The “Surety of Sinners” icon of the Mother of God was in an old chapel beyond the monastery gates, and stood between two other ancient icons. Because it was so faded and covered with dust, it was impossible to read the inscription.

In 1843 it was revealed to many of the people in dreams that the icon was endowed with miraculous power. They solemnly brought the icon into the church. Believers began to flock to it to pray for the healing of their sorrows and sicknesses. The first to receive healing was a crippled child, whose mother prayed fervently before the icon in 1844. The icon was glorified during a cholera epidemic, when many people fell deathly ill, and were restored to health after praying before the icon.

A large stone church with three altars was built at the monastery in honor of the wonderworking icon.

In 1848, through the zeal of Lt. Col. Demetrius Boncheskul, a copy of the wonderworking image was made and placed in his home. Soon it began to exude a healing myrrh, which was given to many so they might recover their health after grievous illnesses. Boncheskul donated this wonderworking copy to the church of Saint Nicholas at Khamovniki in Moscow, where a chapel was built in honor of the icon.

The “Surety of Sinners” Icon is also commemorated on March 7 and on Thursday of the week of All Saints.


Martyred Fathers and Mothers of Atchara

Atchara has been a Christian stronghold since apostolic times. It was through this region that Saint Andrew the First-called entered Georgia, preaching the Gospel for the first time in the Iberian land. In this land, in the village of Gonio, the holy relics of the martyred Apostle Matthias are buried.

Since the 16th century Atchara has been subject to constant assaults by the Turks. Having attained a victory in the Ottoman-Persian War, the Turks gained a large part of southern and western Georgia: Samtskhe, Atchara, and Chaneti were declared Turkish provinces. The invaders knew well that, in order to completely conquer the Georgian people, it was necessary to uproot Christianity. Thus they instituted a systematic campaign of forced conversion to Islam.

When they failed to achieve their goal with bribery and deception, they resorted to violence.

In his work The Islamization of Georgia, or the Spread of Islam in Western Georgia in the 17th-18th Centuries, the renowned early twentieth-century scholar Zakaria Chichinadze retold a story he had heard from one elderly Atcharan man: “In Atchara the implanting of Islam faced a powerful opposition. Many of the elderly men and the majority of women stood firmly by the Christian Faith, and even challenged and debated the Turkish mullahs.... The number of these aged men in Atchara was considerably high. In the end an order was issued: to arrest all dissidents, forcibly convert them to Islam, and execute those who resisted. Before long all the elderly Christians of Atchara were arrested and cast in prison. Then they were led to the River Atcharistsqali, to a 12th-century bridge known as the ‘Bridge of Queen Tamar.’ On that bridge the Ottomans erected a guillotine.

“They chopped off the heads of the elderly people, sent the ends of their tongues to the pasha, and threw their bodies into the river. This happened one hundred years ago, in the year 1790.”

Gallows and a guillotine were erected in the villages of Atcharistsqali, Keda, Chakvi, Khulo, Machakhela, and Gonio. The documents preserved in the manuscript collection at Akhaltsikhe Museum describe in even more horrific detail the martyrdom of the Atcharan Christians: “The human tongue is powerless to describe the tortures that the Georgians suffered in those years for confessing Christianity. While they were still alive their flesh was stripped and their bodies quartered; they were slashed to pieces with swords, their bellies ripped open; they were roasted over campfires. They were pierced with flaming rods, thrown into cauldrons of boiling water; molten lead was poured down their throats; they were tossed into pools of hot lime....”

The Georgian Apostolic Church has numbered among the saints all the holy fathers and mothers of Atchara who sacrificed their lives in defense of the Christian Faith.