Lives of all saints commemorated on July 8

Icon of the Mother of God “Our Lady of Sitka”

The Sitka Icon of the Mother of God

Located at the Cathedral of Saint Michael the Archangel in Sitka, Alaska is one of the most revered Icons in North America: the Sitka Mother of God.

This Icon has been attributed to a famous Iconographer, Vladimir Lukich Borovikovsky (1758-1826), a protégé of the Empress Catherine II who was instructed at the Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg, Russia. In addition to being a great portrait painter, Borovikovsky also painted many of the Icons for the Cathedral of the Kazan Icon in Saint Petersburg.

Painted in the style of the Kazan Mother of God Icon, on canvas, the Sitka Mother of God Icon is 36 x 17-1/2 inches in size. An exceptionally beautiful and detailed riza of silver covers the Icon of the Theotokos and Christ child, and the Image of God the Father blessing from above.

The Cathedral received the Icon as a gift from the laborers of the Russian American Company in 1850, two years after the Cathedral was completed. Even with their meager wages, these men generously made their contribution to the Church.

Miracles have been attributed to the Sitka Mother of God Icon over the years. It is believed that the gaze of the eyes of the Theotokos have led to the restored health of those who prayed before the Icon.

Because of the peaceful gaze of the Theotokos, the Icon has been described as a “pearl of Russian ecclesiastical art of ineffable gentleness, purity and harmony....” And “...the most beautiful face of the Mother of God with the Divine Child in her arms is so delicately and artistically done that the more one looks at it the more difficult it is to tear one’s gaze away.”

Originally part of the main Iconostasis at the Cathedral of Saint Michael the Archangel in Sitka, Alaska, the Icon is now permanently located on the far left side of the Iconostasis in a special place of honor.

Greatmartyr Procopius of Caesarea, in Palestine

The Holy Great Martyr Procopius, in the world Neanius, a native of Jerusalem, lived and suffered during the reign of the emperor Diocletian (284-305). His father, an eminent Roman by the name of Christopher, was a Christian, but the mother of the saint, Theodosia, remained a pagan. He was early deprived of his father, and the young child was raised by his mother. Having received an excellent secular education, he was introduced to Diocletian in the very first year of the emperor’s accession to the throne, and he quickly advanced in government service. Towards the year 303, when open persecution against Christians began, Neanius was sent as a proconsul to Alexandria with orders to mercilessly persecute the Church of God.

On the way to Egypt, near the Syrian city of Apamea, Neanius had a vision of the Lord Jesus, similar to the vision of Saul on the road to Damascus. A divine voice exclaimed, “Neanius, why do you persecute Me?”

Neanius asked, “Who are you, Lord?”

“I am the crucified Jesus, the Son of God.”

At that moment a radiant Cross appeared in the air. Neanius felt an inexpressible joy and spiritual happiness in his heart and he was transformed from being a persecutor into a zealous follower of Christ. From this point in time Neanius became favorably disposed towards Christians and fought victoriously against the barbarians.

The words of the Savior came true for the saint, “A man’s foes shall be those of his own household” (Mt. 10:36). His mother, a pagan herself, went to the emperor to complain that her son did not worship the ancestral gods. Neanius was summoned to the procurator Judaeus Justus, where he was solemnly handed the decree of Diocletian. Having read through the blasphemous directive, Neanius quietly tore it up before the eyes of everyone. This was a crime, which the Romans regarded as an “insult to authority.” Neanius was held under guard and in chains sent to Caesarea of Palestine, where the Apostle Paul once languished. After terrible torments, they threw the saint into a dark prison. That night, a light shone in the prison, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself baptized the suffering confessor, and gave him the name Procopius.

Repeatedly they led Saint Procopius to the courtroom, demanding that he renounce Christ, and they subjected him to more tortures. The stolidity of the martyr and his fiery faith brought down God’s abundant grace on those who witnessed the execution.

Inspired by the example of Procopius, many of the holy martyr’s former guards and Roman soldiers went beneath the executioner’s sword together with their tribunes Nikostrates and Antiochus. Twelve Christian women received martyr’s crowns, after they came to the gates of the Caesarea Praetorium.

Struck by the great faith and courage of the Christians, and seeing the firmness of her son in bearing terrible sufferings, Theodosia became repentant and stood in the line of confessors and was executed. Finally the new procurator, Flavian, convinced of the futility of the tortures, sentenced the holy Great Martyr Procopius to beheading by the sword. By night Christians took up his much-tortured body, and with tears and prayers, they committed it to the earth. This was the first martyrdom at Caesarea (303).

Righteous Procopius the Fool-For-Christ and Wonderworker of Ustya, Vologda

The incorrupt relics of Saint Procopius were uncovered during the eighteenth century near the Entry of the Theotokos parish church in Ustya (Vologda diocese) and placed in the church, where for two hundred years they remained in open view, a source of numerous healings. No account of the origin and life of the holy saint of God has been preserved. His name became known when he himself revealed it in a vision to a pious local inhabitant named Savela.

In connection with an increase in the number of miraculous healings, the relics of Saint Procopius were examined in 1696 (or 1645) and in 1739. After this a chapel in honor of the saint was consecrated in the church where his relics rest. His icon was painted, and a service to him was composed.

In 1818 the universal celebration of the saint was established.

Appearance of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God

The Wonderworking Copy of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God, found in 1579, is in the Kazan cemetery church named for the holy Prince Theodore and his sons David and Constantine. The holy icon is venerated by the residents of the city.

Icon of the Mother of God “Tenderness” in Novgorod

The Tenderness icon of the Mother of God belongs to the Eleousa (Umilenie) type.

On July 8, 1337 a caretaker in Holy Trinity Church in Novgorod heard a noise inside the church and went to investigate. He was astonished to see that the icon of the Mother of God from the second tier of icons above the northern door of the iconostasis had left its place and was floating in the air, and tears were flowing from the eyes of the Virgin.

Archbishop Alexis was notified, and he and his clergy came to the church with a large crowd of people. A special shrine was built for the icon, and July 8 was appointed as its date of commemoration.

That same year, a plague appeared in Novgorod. People flocked to pray before the wonderworking icon, and the plague was stopped. In 1352, Archbishop Basil ordered that an annual procession be made from the church of Holy Wisdom to Holy Trinity Church.

In the summer of 1366 Holy Trinity Church burned down, and the “Tender Feeling” Icon floated in the air above the flames. Archbishop Alexis came to the church to serve a Molieben, and the icon descended into his hands. The fire went out, but a burn mark seven inches long was left on the back of the icon.

Great Prince John III took the icon to Moscow in 1397, where it remained until 1508. At that time, the Mother of God appeared to Princess Maria in a dream and ordered that the icon be returned to Novgorod.

The “Tender Feeling” Icon is of the Umilenie, or Eleousa type.

Monk Martyrs Epictetus and Astion, at Halmyris

The monastic martyrs Epictetus and Astion lived in Bithynia on the southwest coast of the Black Sea during the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian (284-305). From his youth, Saint Epictetus had dedicated his life to God, and studied to acquire knowledge of the Gospel. He entered a monastery, and later was found worthy to be ordained to the holy priesthood. Proclaiming the Gospel of Christ, the saint converted many people to Christianity. God granted Epictetus the gift of wonderworking, and he healed many people troubled by unclean spirits, or afflicted with other maladies.

One day while out for a stroll, the illustrious youth Astion met Saint Epictetus. During a long conversation Saint Epictetus enlightened Astion, sowing the seed of God’s Word in the young man’s soul. He spoke to him about the only true God, about the great value of the immortal human soul, and about fleeting worldly pleasures.

Astion came to believe in Christ and was baptized. Soon after this, he also became a monk. Since Christians were being persecuted in Bithynia, he asked Saint Epictetus if they might travel together to some distant land where they could dedicate their lives completely to God. Boarding a ship, Saints Epictetus and Astion journeyed to Scythia and settled among the pagan Slavs near the Roman outpost of Halmyris in the province of Histria south of the mouth of the Danube. The city was the site of a military fort and a base for the Roman fleet which patrolled the Danube and the Black Sea.

When they arrived at Halmyris in 273, Saint Epictetus was forty-seven years old, and Saint Astion was only eighteen. During the next seventeen years, the saints spent their lives in prayer and fasting, and performed many miracles.

The God-pleasing lives of the monks could not remain hidden from others for very long. People afflicted by various illnesses or oppressed by evil spirits came to the saints seeking relief. Even pagans asked the holy ascetics for help, and after being healed of their afflictions, they embraced Christianity.

Saint Epictetus once healed a fifteen-year-old deaf and dumb boy by praying and breathing on him three times. More than a thousand people became Christians after witnessing this miracle. Saint Astion once cured a man whose legs and toes were crushed when he fell from a building.

Latronianus, the military commander of the district, arrived in Halmyris in 290 on an official visit of inspection. The pagan priests wasted no time in complaining to him about Saints Epictetus and Astion. They denounced the two men from Bithynia, accusing them of converting people to Christianity through sorcery, and persuading them not to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods.

The saints were arrested and interrogated by Latronianus, who tried to find out their names and where they were from. Their only reply was, “We are Christians.” Latronianus had them tortured in an effort to make them abandon their Christian beliefs.

After thirty days in prison without food and water, the holy martyrs Epictetus and Astion were once again brought before Latronianus. They remained steadfast and ready to endure even more suffering for Christ. The commander declared that Epictetus and Astion were traitors, and ordered them to be tortured and beheaded.

Saints Epictetus and Astion received the crown of martyrdom on July 8, 290. At first, they were buried in an unknown spot. Later, their holy relics were transferred into the basilica built in the fourth century by Saint Constantine the Great (May 21) at Halmyris.

Archaeologists discovered the holy relics of Saints Epictetus and Astion at Halmyris in 2001. The bones were scattered about in two rooms of a burial crypt, indicating that the tomb had been vandalized, perhaps in the sixth century. Scientific tests on the bones revealed that one of the men was approximately sixty-four years old, and the other about thirty-five. This is consistent with the ages of the two saints as given in the written accounts of their martyrdom. The bones also indicate that the two had been beheaded.

The holy relics of Saints Epictetus and Astion were reburied in 2001 by Archbishop Theodosius of Tomis (Romania).

Miracle of the Annunciation Icon of the Mother of God at Ustiug

The Ustiug Annunciation Icon of the Mother of God The “Ustiug Annunciation” is a venerable icon, before which Saint Procopius, Fool-for-Christ (+ 1303) prayed with intense fervor on June 25, 1290 for the salvation of the city of Ustiug from the wrath of God.

The icon was painted by a Novgorod iconographer when the holy Prince Vsevolod-Gabriel (February 11) ruled in the city. In 1567, under Metropolitan Philip (January 9), the holy icon was transferred from Great Ustiug to Moscow and placed in the Dormition cathedral. At the present time it is located in the state Tretyakov gallery.

Venerable Theophilus the Myrrhgusher of Macedonia

Saint Theophilus was from Ziki in Macedonia, and lived during the sixteenth century. He had a very good education, but more importantly he dedicated himself to God, purifying himself from every soul-destroying passion, and acquiring every virtue which filled him with the grace of the All-Holy Spirit.

He travelled to Alexandria, at the request of Patriarch Niphon of Constantinople, in order to determine whether the stories about Patriarch Joachim being able to move mountains and to drink poison with no ill effects were true or not. After looking into the matter, he was able to verify that these stories were true.

After completing this work, Saint Theophilus went to struggle on the Holy Mountain, living first at Vatopedi, then at Iveron before settling at Saint Basil’s cell near Karyes. Although he did not seek the praise of men, the fame of the holy ascetic became known on Mount Athos, and in other places as well. His holy life and spiritual gifts could not be hidden, but were revealed by the Lord.

When the Archbishop of Thessalonica reposed, Saint Theophilus was nominated for this office. Out of humility, however, he declined to accept the position.

In 1548, as he felt the approach of death, Saint Theophilus told his disciple Isaac not to give him an honorable burial, but to tie a cord around his feet and drag him out of the monastery, and then to throw his body into a nearby stream.

When the saint fell asleep in the Lord on July 8, 1548, Isaac carried out the instructions of his Elder. Although he was reluctant to do this, he obeyed the saint just as he had always done when Saint Theophilus was alive.

By God’s will, the holy relics of Saint Theophilus were later found and brought to his cell. Then a fragrant myrrh began to flow from the saint’s incorrupt body, which was later enshrined at the Pantokrator Monastery.

Icon of the Mother of God of Tambov

The Annals of Tambov state that the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God was in the Transfiguration Cathedral of Tambov from the first years of the city’s existence (it had been founded in 1636), and it was the main shrine in the region of Tambov. According to the Annals, “on December 6, 1695, during the All Night Vigil in the wooden cathedral church, tears flowed from the eyes of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God.” These tears were so abundant that they moistened the cloth beneath the Icon and the analogion, as well. This was the Icon’s first miracle. Hieromonk Gabriel, the Treasurer of the bishop’s household, recorded this event.

Since then, many who prayed before the Icon began to receive healing, including Saint Pitirim the Bishop of Tambov (+ July 28, 1698) himself. Saint Pitirim had a difficult time when he was first appointed to that See. The moral character of the citizens was very low, and he had to struggle to correct them, especially those who were recent arrivals. Therefore, he placed two Icons on the main gates of the city: one of the Crucifixion, and one of the Kazan Mother of God. This may have happened soon after the appearance of the tears. Many people came to venerate the Icon, entreating the Most Holy Theotokos to help them in their afflictions.

The priests from the Cathedral of the Savior were permitted to bring the Icon from the temple into the private homes of those who were sick so that prayers for their healing could be offered. According to one historian of the nineteenth century, the Icon “visited many houses in the city and outside the city, and dried the tears of many unfortunate people.” (Khitrov, G. Historical and Statistical Description of the Tambov Diocese, Tambov, 1861).

In the middle of the XIX century, the icon was placed under glass in a wooden carved frame and it had a silver and gold-plated riza, which was studded with precious stones: turquoise, amethysts, diamonds and topaz. The Cathedral of the Savior was closed in the 1930s, and the shrine was lost.

Since the Icon is of the Kazan type, its date of commemoration is July 8. In the upper church of the cathedral is another Tambov Icon, also known as Utkinskaya, which is an Icon of the Hodigitria type. Its Feast Day is April 16.

Royal Martyr Mirdat, King of Kartli

King Mirdat (408-410), the son of Varaz-Bakur, was the first martyred king of Georgia. He was raised by his maternal grandfather, King Trdat.

The faithful grandfather taught the future king to love God and his nation, and the young prince mindfully preserved his grandfather’s wisdom throughout his life. Mirdat was endowed with the greatest of a nobleman’s virtues: wisdom, discretion, physical prowess, fearlessness, valor, and courage. He liberated Klarjeti from the Byzantines, abolished the tribute system (by which Georgia was required to pay taxes to Persia), and prepared for war against the Persians.

The Persian king gathered an enormous army to punish the Georgian nation, and King Mirdat courageously marched toward Gardabani (in eastern Georgia) with his much smaller army. But the selflessness and bravery of the Georgian soldiers were no match for the multitude of Persian warriors. The Georgians suffered defeat, and the Persian conquerors captured the young king.

The Persian king demanded that Mirdat renounce the Christian Faith, but he was firmly rebuffed. Neither intimidation nor fear of persecution would break the will of the king. After torturing him for his love of Christ, the Persians bound him in chains, tormented him almost to death, and cast him into prison, where he gave up his soul to the Lord.

The martyrdom of King Mirdat took place at the beginning of the 5th century, in the year 410.