The Holy Martyrs Onesiphorus and Porphyrius of Ephesus suffered during the persecution against Christians by the emperor Diocletian (284-305). They beat them and burned them. After this, they tied the saints to wild horses, which dragged them over the stones, after which the Martyrs Onesiphorus and Porphyrius died. Believers gathered the remains of the saints and reverently buried them.
Saint Matrona, Abbess of Constantinople was born in the city of Perge Pamphylia (Asia Minor) in the fifth century. They gave her in marriage to a wealthy man named Dometian. When her daughter Theodota was born, they resettled in Constantinople. The twenty-five-year-old Matrona loved to walk to the temple of God. She spent entire days there, ardently praying to the Lord and weeping for her sins.
At the church the saint met two pious Eldresses, Eugenia and Susanna, who from their youth lived there in asceticism, work and prayer. Matrona began to imitate the God-pleasing life of an ascetic, humbling her flesh by abstinence and fasting, for which she had to endure criticism by her husband.
Her soul yearned for a full renunciation of the world. After long hesitation, Saint Matrona decided to leave her family and entreated the Lord to reveal whether her intent was pleasing to Him. The Lord heard the prayer of His servant. Once, during a light sleep, she had a dream that she had fled from her husband, who was in pursuit of her. The saint concealed herself in a crowd of monks approaching her, and her husband did not notice her. Matrona accepted this dream as a divine directive to enter a men’s monastery, where her husband would not think to look for her.
She gave her fifteen-year-old daughter to be raised by the Eldress Susanna, and having cut her own hair and disguised herself in men’s attire, she went to the monastery of Saint Bassion (October 10). There the Nun Matrona passed herself off as the eunuch Babylos and was accepted as one of the brethren. Apprehensive lest the monks learn that she was a woman, the saint passed her time in constant quietude and much work. The brethren marveled at the great virtue of Babylos.
One time the saint was working in the monastery vineyard with the other monks. The novice monk Barnabas noted that her ear-lobe was pierced and asked about it. “It is necessary, brother, to till the soil and not watch other people, which is not proper for a monk,” answered the saint.
After a certain while it was revealed in a dream to Saint Bassion, the igumen of the monastery, that the eunuch Babylos was a woman. It was also revealed to Acacius, igumen of the nearby Abraham monastery. Saint Bassion summoned Saint Matrona and asked in a threatening voice why she had entered the monastery: to corrupt the monks, or to shame the monastery.
With tears the saint told the igumen about all her past life, about her husband, hostile to her efforts and prayers, and about the vision directing her to go to the men’s monastery. Convinced that her intent was pure and chaste, Saint Bassion sent Saint Matrona to a women’s monastery in the city of Emesa. In this monastery the saint dwelt for many years, inspiring the sisters by her high monastic achievement. When the Abbess died, by the unanimous wish of the nuns the Nun Matrona became head of the convent.
The fame of her virtuous activities, and miraculous gift of healing, which she acquired from the Lord, spread far beyond the walls of the monastery. Dometian also heard about the deeds of the nun. When Saint Matrona learned that her husband was coming to the monastery and wanted to see her, she secretly went off to Jerusalem, and then to Mount Sinai, and from there to Beirut, where she settled in an abandoned pagan temple. The local inhabitants learned of her seclusion, and began to come to her. The holy ascetic turned many from their pagan impiety and converted them to Christ.
Women and girls began to settle by the dwelling of the nun and soon a new monastery was formed. Having fulfilled the will of God, revealed to her in a dream, the saint left Beirut and journeyed to Constantinople where she learned that her husband had died. With the blessing of her spiritual Father, Saint Bassion, the ascetic founded a women’s monastery in Constantinople, to which sisters from the Beirut convent she founded also transferred. The Constantinople monastery of Saint Matrona was known for its strict monastic rule and the virtuous life of its sisters.
In extreme old age Saint Matrona had a vision of the heavenly Paradise and the place prepared for her there after 75 years of monastic labor. At the age of one hundred, Saint Matrona blessed the sisters,and quietly fell asleep in the Lord.
Saint Theoctiste was born in the city of Methymna on the island of Lesbos. At an early age she was left a complete orphan, and relatives sent her to a monastery to be raised. The girl was happy to be removed from the world of sin, and she liked the monastic life, the long church services, monastic obedience, the strict fasting and unceasing prayer. She learned much of the singing, prayer and psalmody by heart.
In the year 846 when she was already eighteen years old, she set off with the blessing of the abbess, on the Feast of the Resurrection of Christ, to a neighboring village to visit her sister and she remained there overnight. Arabs invaded the settlement, and they took captive all the inhabitants, loaded them on a ship, and by morning they were at sea.
The brigands took the captives to the desolate island of Paros so that they might examine them in order to assign a value to each when they were sold at the slave-market. The Lord helped the young maiden to flee, and the Arabs did not catch her. From that time Saint Theoctiste dwelt on the island for 35 years. An old church in the name of the Most Holy Theotokos served as her dwelling, and her food was sunflower seeds. All her time was spent in prayer.
Once, a group of hunters landed upon the island. One of them, pursuing his prey, went far off from the coast into the forest and suddenly he saw the church. He went into the church so as to offer up a prayer to the Lord. After the prayer the hunter saw what looked like a human form in a dim corner, not far from the holy altar table, through thick cobwebs. He went closer and heard a voice, “Stay there, fellow, and come no closer to shame me, since I am a naked woman.” The hunter gave the woman his outer clothing and she came out from concealment. He beheld a grey-haired woman with worn face, calling herself Theoctiste. With a weak voice she told of her life fully devoted to God.
When she finished her story, the saint asked the hunter, if he happened to come to this island again, that he should bring her a particle of the Presanctified Gifts. During all her time of living in the wilderness she not once was granted to partake of the Holy Mysteries of Christ.
A year later, the hunter again arrived upon the island and brought a small vessel with a particle of the Holy Mysteries. Saint Theoctiste met the Holy Gifts in the church, fell down to the ground and prayed long with tears. Standing up, she took the vessel and with reverence and in the fear of God she received the Body and Blood of Christ.
On the following day the hunter saw the dead body of the nun Theoctiste in the church. After digging a shallow grave, the hunter placed the venerable body of the nun in it. As he did so, he impudently cut off her hand, so as to take with him part of the relics of the great saint of God. All night the ship sailed upon a tempestuous sea, and in the morning it found itself at the very place from which it began. The man then perceived that taking the relic was not pleasing to God.
He returned to the grave and placed the hand with the body of the saint. After this the ship sailed off unhindered. On the journey the hunter told his companions everything that had happened on the island. Listening to him, they all decided immediately to return to Paros, to venerate the relics of the great ascetic, but they could not find her holy body in the grave.
Saint Onesiphorus the Confessor of the Kiev Caves, Near Caves pursued the ascetic life in the Kiev Caves monastery. He was a presbyter and had the gift of clairvoyance. He died in the year 1148 and was buried in the Near Caves beside Saint Spyridon (October 31). His memory is also celebrated on September 28 and on the second Sunday of Great Lent.
The Martyr Alexander of Thessalonica was arrested by pagans for confessing the Christian Faith. Under the emperor Maximian (284-305)he not only admitted being a Christian, but when told to offer sacrifice to the gods, he overturned the idolatrous sacrifice in indignation. The emperor gave orders to behead the saint.
When the execution was done, the emperor and the executioner saw how an angel came forth bearing the soul of the holy Martyr Alexander up to the heavens. The emperor permitted Christians to bury the body of the saint with honor in the city of Thessalonica, which they did with joy.
The Holy Martyr Anthony, a Syrian, lived during the fifth century and was a stone-mason. With the blessing of the bishop of the Syrian city of Apamea, he started to build a church dedicated to the Holy Trinity. When the pagan townspeople learned of this, they rushed into his house by night and murdered him with a sword.
Saint John the Dwarf of Egypt struggled in the Egyptian desert in the fifth century in the monastery of Saint Pimen the Great (August 27). It was to this monastery that the young John came with his brother Daniel.
Once, Saint John told his elder brother that he did not want to be concerned about clothing and food, and that he wished to live like the angels in Paradise. Daniel allowed him to go to a deserted place, so that he would be afflicted. John went out from the cell and removed his clothing. It was very cold at night, and after a week John became hungry.
One night John went back to the monastery and began to knock on the door of the cell. “Who is it?” Daniel asked.
“It is I, your brother John.”
Daniel replied, “John has become an angel, and is no longer among men.”
John continued to knock, but Daniel would not let him in until morning. Then he said, “You are a man and must work again if you want to eat.” Saint John wept bitterly, asking for forgiveness.
After being brought to his senses Saint John went to Saint Pimen, known for his firm and steadfast will, and having asked guidance, he promised to be obedient in all things. Testing the patience of the young monk, Saint Pimen gave him an unusual obedience. For three years Saint John carried water and poured it on a dry stick, until it became covered with leaves and bore abundant fruit. His Elder took the fruit to the brethren saying, “Take and eat the fruit of obedience.”
Later, Abba John himself became a guide of many people on the way of salvation, among whom were Saint Arsenius the Great (May 8) and Saint Thais (May 10).
Saint John was the author of the Life of Saint Paisius the Great (June 19).
Saint Eustolia, a native of Rome, had come to Constantinople and entered one of the women’s monasteries. The virtuous and strict monastic life of the saint gained her the love and respect of the sisters. Not only monastics, but also many laypeople came to her for advice and consolation.
St Eustolia died in the year 610.
Saint Sopatra of Constantinople was the daughter of the emperor Mauricius (582-602). She was inclined towards monasticism, and met Saint Eustolia in the church of the Most Holy Theotokos at Blachernae. After speaking with the saint, Sopatra finally decided to leave the world and submit her will to her guide, Saint Eustolia. She transformed the palace building, which her father had given her, into a monastery known for its strict monastic Rule.
Saint Sopatra died in the year 625.
Saint Nectarius, the great wonderworker of modern times, was born Anastasius Kephalas in Selebria, Thrace on October 1, 1846.
Since his family was poor, Anastasius went to Constantinople when he was fourteen in order to find work. Although he had no money, he asked the captain of a boat to take him. The captain told him to take a walk and then come back. Anastasius understood, and sadly walked away.
The captain gave the order to start the engines, but nothing happened. After several unsuccessful attempts, he looked up into the eyes of Anastasius who stood on the dock. Taking pity on the boy, the captain told him to come aboard. Immediately, the engines started and the boat began to move.
Anastasius found a job with a tobacco merchant in Constantinople, who did not pay him very much. In his desire to share useful information with others, Anastasius wrote down short maxims from spiritual books on the paper bags and packages of the tobacco shop. The customers would read them out of curiosity, and might perhaps derive some benefit from them.
The boy went about barefoot and in ragged clothing, but he trusted in God. Seeing that the merchant received many letters, Anastasius also wanted to write a letter. To whom could he write? Not to his parents, because there were no mail deliveries to his village. Not to his friends, because he had none. Therefore, he decided to write to Christ to tell Him of his needs.
“My little Christ,” he wrote. “I do not have an apron or shoes. You send them to me. You know how much I love you.”
Anastasius sealed the letter and wrote on the outside: “To the Lord Jesus Christ in Heaven.” On his way to mail the letter, he ran into the man who owned a shop opposite the one in which he worked. The man asked him where he was going, and Anastasius whispered something in reply. Seeing the letter in his hands, the man offered to mail it for him, since he was on his way to the post office.
The merchant put the letter in his pocket and assured Anastasius that he would mail it with his own letters. The boy returned to the tobacco shop, filled with happiness. When he took the letter from his pocket to mail it, the merchant happened to notice the address. Astonished and curious, the man could not resist opening the letter to read it. Touched by the boy’s simple faith, the merchant placed some money in an envelope and sent it to him anonymously. Anastasius was filled with joy, and he gave thanks to God.
A few days later, seeing Anastasius dressed somewhat better than usual, his employer thought he had stolen money from him and began to beat him. Anastasius cried out, “I have never stolen anything. My little Christ sent me the money.”
Hearing the commotion, the other merchant came and took the tobacco seller aside and explained the situation to him.
When he was still a young man, Anastasius made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. During the voyage, the ship was in danger of sinking in a storm. Anastasius looked at the raging sea, and then at the captain. He went and stood beside the captain and took the helm, praying for God to save them. Then he took off the cross his grandmother had given him (containing a piece of the Cross of Christ) and tied it to his belt. Leaning over the side, he dipped the cross into the water three times and commanded the sea, “Silence! Be still.” At once, the wind died down and the sea became calm.
Anastasius was saddened, however, because his cross had fallen into the sea and was lost. As the boat sailed on, sounds of knocking seemed to come from the hull below the water line. When the ship docked, the young man got off and started to walk away.
Suddenly, the captain began shouting, “Kephalas, Kephalas, come back here.” The captain had ordered some men into a small boat to examine the hull in order to discover the source of the knocking, and they discovered the cross stuck to the hull. Anastasius was elated to receive his “Treasure,” and always wore it from that time forward. There is a photograph taken many years later, showing the saint in his monastic skufia. The cross is clearly visible in the photo.
On November 7, 1875, Anastasius received monastic tonsure at the Nea Moni Monastery on Chios, and the new name Lazarus. Two years later, he was ordained a deacon. On that occasion, his name was changed to Nectarius.
Later, when he was a priest, Father Nectarius left Chios and went to Egypt. There he was elected Metropolitan of Pentapolis. Some of his colleagues became jealous of him because of his great virtues, because of his inspiring sermons, and because of everything else which distinguished Saint Nectarius from them.
Other Metropolitans and bishops of the Patriarchate of Alexandria became filled with malice toward the saint, so they told Patriarch Sophronius that Nectarius was plotting to become patriarch himself. They told the patriarch that the Metropolitan of Pentapolis merely made an outward show of piety in order to win favor with the people. So the patriarch and his synod removed Saint Nectarius from his See. Patriarch Sophronius wrote an ambiguous letter of suspension which provoked scandal and speculation about the true reasons for the saint’s removal from his position.
Saint Nectarius was not deposed from his rank, however. He was still allowed to function as a bishop. If anyone invited him to perform a wedding or a baptism he could do so, as long as he obtained permission from the local bishop.
Saint Nectarius bore his trials with great patience, but those who loved him began to demand to know why he had been removed. Seeing that this was causing a disturbance in the Church of Alexandria, he decided to go to Greece. He arrived in Athens to find that false rumors about him had already reached that city. His letter of suspension said only that he had been removed “for reasons known to the Patriarchate,” and so all the slanders about him were believed.
Since the state and ecclesiastical authorities would not give him a position, the former Metropolitan was left with no means of support, and no place to live. Every day he went to the Minister of Religion asking for assistance. They soon tired of him and began to mistreat him.
One day, as he was leaving the Minister’s office, Saint Nectarius met a friend whom he had known in Egypt. Surprised to find the beloved bishop in such a condition, the man spoke to the Minister of Religion and Education and asked that something be found for him. So, Saint Nectarius was appointed to be a humble preacher in the diocese of Vitineia and Euboea. The saint did not regard this as humiliating for him, even though a simple monk could have filled that position. He went to Euboea to preach in the churches, eagerly embracing his duties.
Yet even here, the rumors of scandal followed him. Sometimes, while he was preaching, people began to laugh and whisper. Therefore, the blameless one resigned his position and returned to Athens. By then some people had begun to realize that the rumors were untrue, because they saw nothing in his life or conversation to suggest that he was guilty of anything. With their help and influence, Saint Nectarius was appointed Director of the Rizarios Seminary in Athens on March 8, 1894. He was to remain in that position until December of 1908.
The saint celebrated the services in the seminary church, taught the students, and wrote several edifying and useful books. Since he was a quiet man, Saint Nectarius did not care for the noise and bustle of Athens. He wanted to retire somewhere where he could pray. On the island of Aegina he found an abandoned monastery dedicated to the Holy Trinity, which he began to repair with his own hands.
He gathered a community of nuns, appointing the blind nun Xenia as abbess, while he himself served as Father Confessor. Since he had a gift for spiritual direction, many people came to Aegina to confess to him. Eventually, the community grew to thirty nuns. He used to tell them, “I am building a lighthouse for you, and God shall put a light in it that will shine forth to the world. Many will see this light and come to Aegina.” They did not understand what he was telling them, that he himself would be that beacon, and that people would come there to venerate his holy relics.
On September 20, 1920 the nun Euphemia brought an old man in black robes, who was obviously in pain, to the Aretaieion Hospital in Athens. This was a state hospital for the poor. The intern asked the nun for information about the patient.
“Is he a monk?” he asked.
“No, he is a bishop.”
The intern laughed and said, “Stop joking and tell me his name, Mother, so that I can enter it in the register.”
“He is indeed a bishop, my child. He is the Most Reverend Metropolitan of Pentapolis.”
The intern muttered, “For the first time in my life I see a bishop without a panagia or cross, and more significantly, without money.”
Then the nun showed the saint’s credentials to the astonished intern who then admitted him. For two months Saint Nectarius suffered from a disease of the bladder. At ten thirty on the evening of November 8, 1920, he surrendered his holy soul to God. He died in peace at the age of seventy-four.
In the bed next to Saint Nectarius was a man who was paralyzed. As soon as the saint had breathed his last, the nurse and the nun who sat with him began to dress him in clean clothing to prepare him for burial at Aegina. They removed his sweater and placed it on the paralyzed man’s bed. Immediately, the paralytic got up from his bed, glorifying God.
Saint Nectarius was buried at the Holy Trinity Monastery on Aegina. Several years later, his grave was opened to remove his bones (as is the custom in Greece). His body was found whole and incorrupt, as if he had been buried that very day.
Word was sent to the Archbishop of Athens, who came to see the relics for himself. Archbishop Chrysostomos told the nuns to leave them out in the sun for a few days, then to rebury them so that they would decay. A month or two after this, they opened the grave again and found the saint incorrupt. Then the relics were placed in a marble sarcophagus.
Several years later, the holy relics dissolved, leaving only the bones. The saint’s head was placed in a bishop’s mitre, and the top was opened to allow people to kiss his head.
Saint Nectarius was glorified by God, since his whole life was a continuous doxology to the Lord. Both during his life and after his death, Saint Nectarius has performed thousands of miracles, especially for those suffering from cancer. There are more churches dedicated to Saint Nectarius than to any other modern Orthodox saint.
Saints Euthymius and Neophytus, founders of the Dochiariou Monastery on Mount Athos, an uncle and his nephew, belonged to the highest Byzantine aristocracy. Saint Euthymius, while still in the world, was the friend of Saint Athanasius of Mount Athos (July 5), and he later became a novice and disciple of the great ascetic. For his sincere love of the brethren, gentleness and his particular zeal in the ascetic life, Saint Athanasius granted the monk the duty of steward, which Saint Euthymius fulfilled as though entrusted to him by God Himself.
Saint Euthymius settled with several of the monks in the locale of Daphne, where he founded a monastery dedicated to Saint Nicholas, which he called Dochiariou in memory of his obedience. Guiding his own younger brethren, Saint Euthymius taught the necessity of attention towards self, to all the stirrings of the soul, explaining that the struggle of Christians, according to the Apostle Paul, is not “against flesh and blood, but against principalities, and against powers, and against the world-rulers of this darkness” (Eph 6:12).
The peaceful ascetic life of the monks was disturbed by the Saracens. The monk led all the brethren into the forest. Returning, they found the monastery razed to its very foundations. Saint Euthymius did not lose heart, and the monastery was rebuilt.
Saint Neophytus, in the world, was a companion of the emperor Nicephorus Phocas (963-969). Upon the death of his parents he came to Mount Athos, where he was tonsured in the monastery of his uncle Saint Euthymius. Before his death, Saint Euthymius handed over the administration of the monastery to his nephew.
Under the spiritual guidance of Saint Neophytus, the small monastery grew into a Lavra. Asking the emperor Nicephorus to become a benefactor of the monastery, Saint Neophytus enlarged the monastery to its present size. Saint Neophytus was deigned to be chosen “protos” (head of the governing Council of Elders of the Holy Mountain) and for many years he labored there. After taking leave of the Council in his declining years, he returned to the Dochiariou monastery, where peacefully he fell asleep in the Lord.
The Icon of the Mother of God, “Quick to Hear”, an ancient wonderworking icon, is located on Holy Mount Athos at the Dochiariou monastery. The monastery tradition suggests that it was painted in the tenth century, in the time of the igumen Saint Neophytus (November 9). In the year 1664 the cook Nilus came to the kitchen at night with a burning torch. He heard a voice from the icon of the Mother of God which hung over the door, warning him in future not to walk here with a torch and not to darken the icon with soot. The monk thought that this was a prank of one of the brethren, so he disregarded the warning and continued to walk into the kitchen with the sooty torch.
Suddenly he fell blind. With fervent repentance Nilus prayed before the icon of the Mother of God, begging forgiveness. When the brethren heard what had happened, they placed a lamp before the icon, and censed it every night. Again he heard the wondrous voice saying that he had been forgiven, and that his sight would return. The All-Pure One commanded him to announce to all the brethren that She was the protector and guardian of the monastery. “Let them and all Orthodox Christians come to Me in their necessities, and I shall not forsake them. All their petitions will be granted by My Son, because of My intercession with Him. My icon shall be called ‘She Who Is Quick to Hear’, for I shall speedily fulfill the petitions of those who hasten to it.” The Most Holy Theotokos then fulfilled and continues to fulfill Her promise of quick help and consolation for all those who come to Her with faith.
In Russia, copies of the wonderworking Athonite image “She who is Quick to Hear” were always venerated with great love and fervent prayer. Many of them were glorified by miracles. In particular, there were cases of healing from the plague and from demonic possession.
In 1938, the Dochiariou monastery presented a copy of the wonderworking Icon of the Mother of God “Quick to Hear” to the Russian Spiritual Mission at Jerusalem.