Lives of all saints commemorated on April 21


Bright Friday: The Life Giving Spring of the Mother of God

Today we commemorate the Life-Giving Spring of the Most Holy Theotokos.

There once was a beautiful church in Constantinople dedicated to the Mother of God, which had been built in the fifth century by the holy Emperor Leo the Great (January 20) in the Seven Towers district.

Before becoming emperor, Leo was walking in a wooded area where he met a blind man who was thirsty and asked Leo to help him find water. Though he agreed to search for water, he was unable to find any. Suddenly, he heard a voice telling him that there was water nearby. He looked again, but still could not find the water. Then he heard the voice saying “Emperor Leo, go into the deepest part of the woods, and you will find water there. Take some of the cloudy water in your hands and give it to the blind man to drink.Then take the clay and put it on his eyes. Then you shall know who I am.” Leo obeyed these instructions, and the blind man regained his sight. Later, Saint Leo became emperor, just as the Theotokos had prophesied.

Leo built a church over the site at his own expense, and the water continued to work miraculous cures. Therefore, it was called “The Life-Giving Spring.”

After the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, the church was torn down by the Moslems, and the stones were used to build a mosque. Only a small chapel remained at the site of the church. Twenty-five steps led down into the chapel, which had a window in the roof to let the light in. The holy Spring was still there, surrounded by a railing.

After the Greek Revolution in 1821, even this little chapel was destroyed and the Spring was buried under the rubble. Christians later obtained permission to rebuild the chapel, and work began in July of 1833. While workmen were clearing the ground, they uncovered the foundations of the earlier church. The Sultan allowed them to build not just a chapel, but a new and beautiful church on the foundations of the old one.

Construction began on September 14, 1833, and was completed on December 30, 1834. Patriarch Constantine II consecrated the church on February 2, 1835, dedicating it to the Most Holy Theotokos.

The Turks desecrated and destroyed the church again on September 6, 1955. A smaller church now stands on the site, and the waters of the Life-Giving Spring continue to work miracles.

There is also a Life-Giving Spring Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos which is commemorated on April 4.

KONTAKION Tone 8

O most favored by God, you confer on me the healing of your grace from your inexhaustible Spring. Therefore, since you gave birth incomprehensibly to the Word, I implore you to refresh me with the dew of your grace that I might cry to you: Hail, O Water of salvation.


Hieromartyr Januarius, Bishop of Benevento, and his companions, at Pozzuoli

Hieromartyr Januarius Bishop of Benevento, and the deacons Proculus, Sossius and Faustus, Desiderius the Reader, Eutychius and Acution suffered martyrdom for Christ about the year 305 during the persecution ordered by the emperor Diocletian (284-305).

They arrested Saint Januarius and led him to trial before Menignus, the governor of Campagna (central Italy). Because of his firm confession of Christianity, they threw the saint into a red-hot furnace. But like the Babylonian youths, he came out unharmed. Then at Menignus’s command, they stretched him out on a bench and beat him with iron rods until his bones were exposed.

In the crowd were Deacon Faustus and the Reader Desiderius, who wept at the sight of their bishop’s suffering. The pagans surmised that they were Christians, and threw them into prison with the hieromartyr Januarius, in the city of Puteolum. At this prison were two deacons who had been jailed for confessing Christ: Saints Sossius and Proculus, and also two laymen, Saints Eutychius and Acution.

On the following morning they led out all the martyrs into the circus to be torn to pieces by wild beasts, but the beasts would not touch them. Menignus claimed that all the miracles were due to sorcery on the part of the Christians, and immediately he became blinded and cried out for help. The gentle hieromartyr Januarius prayed for his healing, and Menignus recovered his sight. The torturer’s blindness of soul, however, was not healed. He accused the Christians of sorcery, and ordered the martyrs beheaded before the walls of the city (+ 305).

Christians from surrounding cities took up the bodies of the holy martyrs for burial, and those of each city took one, in order to have an intercessor before God. The inhabitants of Neapolis (Naples) took the body of the hieromartyr Januarius. With the body, they also collected his dried blood.

Since the fifteenth century, the blood liquifies when the container is placed near another relic, believed to be the martyr’s head. Many miracles proceeded from the relics of the hieromartyr Januarius. During an eruption of Vesuvius around 431, the inhabitants of the city prayed to Saint Januarius to help them. The lava stopped, and did not reach the city.


Hieromartyr Theodore of Perge in Pamphylia, his mother, Philippa, and Martyrs Dioscorus, Socrates, and Dionysius

The Holy Martyrs Theodore, his mother Philippa, Dioscorus, Socrates and Dionysius suffered during the reign of the emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161) in Perge, Pamphylia. When they were conscripting robust and healthy young men for military service, then they led the youth Theodore and the others to the military commander Theodotus.

The military commander ordered the youth to offer sacrifice to idols, but the martyr submitted neither to persuasion nor threats. Then the military commander had him placed on a red-hot plate and poured liquid tar on him. Suddenly, there was an earthquake, and a torrent of water gushed forth from the ground and extinguished the fire.

The martyr Theodore remained unharmed, and gave praise to God. The commander ascribed his deliverance to sorcery, so Saint Theodore suggested that he test the power of his gods by putting the pagan priest Dioscorus through the same trials.

The commander told Dioscorus to lie upon the red-hot plate, and call on the help of Zeus. Saint Dioscorus replied that he believed in Christ, and he was prepared to throw the idol of Zeus into the fire. Again the military commander commanded him to get on the heated plate. Saint Dioscorus fell at the knees of Saint Theodore, asking that he pray for him. Then he got onto the plate, crying out: “I thank You, Lord Jesus Christ, that You have numbered me among Your servants. Accept my soul in peace.” Then he died, having been delivered from terrible torment.

They continued to torture Saint Theodore. They tied him to wild horses, which began to run. But at the city walls the horses fell down and collapsed, and the martyr Theodore remained unharmed. Two soldiers, Socrates and Dionysius, saw how a fiery chariot came down from the heavens to Saint Theodore, on which the martyr was carried off.

The astonished soldiers shouted: “Great is the God of the Christians!” They seized them and on the next day threw them into a fiery furnace with the martyr Theodore. But a heavenly dew cooled the furnace, and the saints remained alive.

In the morning, the military commander ordered soldiers to look upon the burned bodies of the martyrs. The soldiers returned and reported that the three youths were unharmed. Saint Theodore’s mother, Philippa, encouraged the martyrs in their act.

The military commander told Saint Philippa to save her son, by urging him to offer sacrifice to the idols. Saint Philippa said that when her son was born it was revealed to her that he would be crucified for Christ. Hearing this, the military commander commanded them to crucify Saint Theodore, and to cut off the heads of the other martyrs. Saint Theodore hung on the cross for three days, offering prayers to God until he finally died.


Martyrs Isaac, Apollos, and Quadratus, of Nicomedia

The Holy Martyrs Isaac, Apollos and Quadratus were pagans who served at the court of the emperor Diocletian (284-305). They were among the spectators who witnessed the sufferings of the Holy Great Martyr George (April 23).

His faith, valor and miracles caused them to believe in Christ. The saints openly declared themselves Christians, and reproached the emperor for his impiety and cruelty. They were sentenced to death. The martyr Quadratus was beheaded with a sword, and the martyrs Apollos and Isaac perished by starvation (+ 303).


Saint Maximian, Patriarch of Constantinople

Saint Maximian, Patriarch of Constantinople, was born in Rome from wealthy and pious parents. Upon receiving his inheritance, he provided tombs to bury those who led holy lives.

Saint Maximian was a plain man and he preferred to live far from worldly vanity. Because of his pure and virtuous life, Patriarch Sisinius of Constantinople (426-427) ordained him presbyter. When the heretic Nestorius (428-431) was deposed as Patriarch of Constantinople, Saint Maximian replaced him on the patriarchal throne on October 25, 431, during the reign of the holy emperor Theodosius the Younger (408-450).

The holy Patriarch Maximian died peacefully on April 12, 434, on Great and Holy Thursday.


Venerable Theodore of Sanaxar

Saint Theodore was born near the town of Romanov in the province of Yaroslavl in 1719, the son of Prince Ignatius Ushakov and his wife Paraskeva (or Irene). At his Baptism, he was named John.

As a young man, John Ushakov enlisted in the Preobrazhensky Guard Regiment in Petersburg, and attained the rank of sergeant. Life in the capital was fraught with great spiritual danger for a young person, but God delivered John from the wrong path.

When John was twenty, at a drinking party with his friends, one of them suddenly collapsed and died. They all experienced fear and sadness, but this seemed to affect John more than the others.This incident is remarkably similar to the circumstances surrounding the death of Major Andrew Petrov, the husband of Blessed Xenia of Saint Petersburg (January 24), but it may be only coincidental.

In any case, John decided to leave Saint Petersburg and live in the wilderness, dedicating himself to God. While walking near the city of Yaroslavl disguised as a laborer, he saw his uncle out with his servants. His uncle did not recognize him because of his poor clothing, but John was reminded of his former life of luxury and ease. He soon banished this thought and resolved to dwell in the wilderness.

While walking in the forests near the White Sea, John came upon an abandoned cell, so he decided to remain there in solitude and pray to God. He lived there for three years in great hardship and affliction. Government regulations of the time enjoined citizens not to permit monks to live in the forests. When John came to the village for supplies, he was beaten within an inch of his life, and was forced to flee.

John eventually came to the region south of Kiev, reaching the Ploschansk Monastery. He begged the igumen to accept him, saying that he was the son of a priest. He could not admit to being a sergeant of the Guard, since legal obstacles would have made it very difficult for him to enter monastic life.

The igumen would not accept him for a long time, since he did not have the proper identification papers. Finally, he did accept John and assigned him to read in church. After hearing him read, the igumen realized that John was not from a priestly family, but probably belonged to the nobility. Fearing trouble with the authorities, he ordered John to live in the forest near the monastery where other ascetics were living. He found an empty cell and received the blessing of these Fathers to remain there.

When a team of investigators came to the forest looking for monks living there illegally, John was caught. Since he had no documents and admitted to being a sergeant in the Guard, he was brought to Saint Petersburg and taken to the empress Elizabeth. When he was taken to the empress, she asked, “Why did you desert my regiment?”

John explained that he had done so in order to save his soul. Elizabeth forgave him and was willing to restore him to his former rank, but John said that he did not want his former life or rank.

The empress then asked why he had snuck away in secret instead of asking to be discharged. John replied, “If I had troubled Your Majesty with such a request, you would not have believed that a young man such as I could have borne such a burden. I have now been tested in the spiritual life, and I ask Your Majesty to bless me to continue in it until my death.”

Elizabeth agreed to this, but stipulated that he should remain in the Saint Alexander Nevsky Lavra in Saint Petersburg. Soon, at her express command, John was tonsured in August of 1748 at the age of twenty-nine. Archbishop Theodosius, who then governed the monastery, ordered that he be named Theodore, in honor of Saint Theodore of Yaroslavl (September 19).

While Father Theodore was in the Lavra, people would visit and ask him about how to please God while living in the world. He tried to tell them that there were older, wiser monks there who would be able to instruct them better than he could. Still, they insisted, so he tried to help them. He found, however, that he could not always answer their questions or find solutions to their problems, so he began to read patristic books, especially the works of Saint John Chrysostom, asking God to enlighten him so he could understand the Scriptures and the teachings of the Fathers. He learned many things from his reading, and he was able to instruct people for their spiritual profit. This caused jealousy among some of the older monks, who complained to the archbishop that this young monk was attracting people to himself and disturbing the tranquility of the monastery. The hierarch ordered that no visitor requesting to see Father Theodore should be admitted.

Father Theodore went to the steward of the monastery, asking him why people could not see him. He was told that because he presumed to instruct people, attracting many visitors, that the routine of the monastery was disrupted.

“If there is something in my teaching which seems unlawful to His Eminence,” Father Theodore responded, “then he should question me. It is sinful, however, to cause unnecessary sorrow to those seek spiritual profit.”

The archbishop was furious, but he ordered that people should be allowed to see Father Theodore again. The jealousy and difficulties continued for ten years, and Father Theodore endured his trials with patience. In 1757, he wanted to transfer to Sarov Monastery, and when the brethren of the Lavra found out about this, they insisted that he submit a written request for transfer.

Obtaining his release, Father Theodore left Saint Petersburg with many of his disciples, male and female. Along the way they stopped at Saint Nicholas Convent in Arzamas, where he settled his women disciples. Soon they moved to the vacant Alexeyevsky Convent. The male disciples went with him to Sarov.

In 1759, after two years at Sarov, Father Theodore asked Igumen Ephraim to let him have the Sanaxar Monastery, because the number of his disciples had increased. Sanaxar had been founded in 1659, but was closed by Tsar Peter I in the first half of the eighteenth century, and the property was administered by the Sarov Monastery. After moving to Sanaxar Hermitage, Father Theodore began the work of building cells and storerooms. Bishop Pachomius of Tambov appointed Father Theodore as the Superior. He also ordained the reluctant Father Theodore to the holy priesthood on December 13, 1762. Father Theodore began setting things in order, establishing a Rule for the reverent, unhurried celebration of the services. He also set down a cell Rule for the monks to follow. Everyone shared in the work (except those who were too old or too sick), including the Superior.

The number of monks at Sanaxar continued to increase, but not all of them had been tonsured. It was necessary to obtain permission to have them tonsured, for the number of monks allowed to live in a monastery was regulated by law. On April 23, 1763 Empress Catherine II decreed that all of Father Theodore’s monks should be tonsured. The following year, she issued a decree limiting the number of monasteries, those not specifically approved would be closed.

Sanaxar Hermitage was among the monastic institutions scheduled to be closed, but it remained open through Father Theodore’s efforts. Father Theodore was raised to the rank of igumen in October of 1764, and Sanaxar was reclassified as a Monastery on March 7, 1765.

Because of the number of brethren, it became necessary to build a larger stone church to replace the small wooden one. A foundation was dug and a Molieben served at the site. Suddenly, a swarm of bees came and settled on the spot where the altar would be. This was taken as a sign of an increase in the number of brethren, and an abundance of grace in the monastery.

According to N. Subbotin’s 1862 book on Archimandrite Theophanes of the Saint Cyril of New Lake Monastery (who was a novice at Sanaxar at the same time that Saint Herman was), Igumen Theodore ordered a monk named Herman to brush the bees into a hive. It is probable that this was the future Saint Herman of Alaska (December 13). In another edition of the book, the brother’s name is given as Gerasimus. After this account, Subbotin mentions “Father Herman, who is now in America.” The discrepency in names may be explained if Saint Herman’s name before his tonsure was Gerasimus. Saint Herman, in one of his letters to Father Nazarius, says that he had friends at Sarov and Sanaxar, so Saint Theodore may have been one of Saint Herman’s early instructors.

Saint Theodore once visited Saint Tikhon (August 13) at the Zadonsk Monastery. It is not known how long the two had known one another, but the retired bishop received him with love. This visit was providential, because Saint Tikhon also knew what it was to suffer offenses from superiors, from worldly-minded monks, and from laymen. Perhaps he even advised Father Theodore on how to endure the trials which lay ahead of him.

When Father Theodore returned to Sanaxar a royal edict was delivered to him by a courier. It ordered him to be sent as an exile to Solovki Monastery as a troublemaker. He was deprived of the rank of Igumen and Hieromonk, and the Superior of Solovki was ordered to keep a close eye on him. Father Theodore remained there for nine years (1774-1783).

His release came about thanks to his disciple Archimandrite Theophanes (Sokolov), who found himself assigned as cell attendant to Metropolitan Gabriel of Saint Petersburg. Desiring to help his Elder, Father Theophanes made the Metropolitan aware of Father Theodore’s situation. His Eminence asked Father Theophanes to prepare a memorandum setting forth the facts of the case in detail. As a result, Metropolitan Gabriel asked Empress Catherine II to release Father Theodore and permit him to return to Sanaxar.

On April 18, 1783 she issued a decree authorizing his release. Because of his weakened condition from the cold and fumes from smoky stoves, it took him a long time to make his way back to Sanaxar. He arrived at Arzamas Monastery on October 9, 1783 where he was greeted by the sisters, and by two hieromonks from Sanxar. Others were also on hand to meet the Elder: superiors from other monasteries, respected nobles, merchants, and ordinary men and women. He stayed about a week, instructing the nuns each day. Finally, he prepared to return to Sanaxar. The entire brotherhood came to meet him at the ferry on the Moksha River. After receiving his blessing, they accompanied him on the walk to Sanaxar. Father Theodore thanked the brethren for their continued love, and for completing the church without him.

Within a few days after his return, Father Theodore faced renewed persecution. Hierodeacon Hilarion accused him of being “a heretic and an atheist,” and placed these accusations before the Holy Synod. They determined that Hierodeacon Hilarion was at fault and should be punished. He later asked Father Theodore’s forgiveness in front of the whole community.

The Superior of the Monastery, Father Benedict, was jealous of Father Theodore because of the crowds of visitors who came to see him. He complained to the local bishop, saying that the quiet of the monastery was being disturbed by so many people. Investigators were sent, but they did not interview anyone who might have said anything favorable to Father Theodore. As a result, Father Theodore was forbidden to receive visitors.

Once again, Father Theophanes brought the Elder’s plight to the attention of Metropolitan Gabriel. His Eminence sent a note saying that he was well-disposed toward Father Theodore. As a result, he was given a bit more freedom, but his disciples could only seek his advice by writing letters.

Father Benedict became ill, and Father Theodore went to his cell to ask his forgiveness. Father Benedict turned his face to the wall and refused to speak to the Elder. After suffering for a while, Father Benedict died on December 27, 1778.

After the Superior’s death, Father Theodore was once again permitted to visit the nuns of the Alexeyevsky Convent at Arzamas. After delivering a moving homily on Psalm 136 (“By the rivers of Babylon”) he left Arzamas and stopped at the monastery in Sarov. There he asked forgiveness of everyone, then rushed back to Sanaxar. He arrived on Wednesday of Cheesefare Week and spoke to his disciples in his cell around noon. Then he dismissed them to return to their cells.

Two noble disciples of Saint Theodore remained behind to ask his advice. Suddenly his expression changed and he began to weep for about fifteen minutes, lamenting how he had sinned in his youth. Then he ordered them to their cells, saying that he was feeling weak.

It was not rare for the Elder to be ill, but this weakness seemed unusual. His two disciples left and returned to their cells. Soon after this, his cell attendant knocked on the door with the customary prayer, but received no reply. He entered the cell and found Father Theodore lying on his bed and praying, so he left and told the brethren about this. They all came to see him, but he would not speak.

About five hours later, around nine o’clock on the evening of February 19, 1791, Saint Theodore surrendered his soul to God.

Saint Theodore’s relics were uncovered on April 21, 1999, and he was glorified for local veneration on June 28, 1999. He was glorified for national veneration by the Orthodox Church of Russia in 2004.

Saint Theodore of Sanaxar, who is also commemorated on February 19, should not be confused with his famous relative Saint Theodore (Ushakov), Admiral of the Russian Fleet (October 2).