The Fourth Sunday of Lent is dedicated to Saint John of the Ladder (Climacus), the author of the work, The Ladder of Divine Ascent. The abbot of Saint Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai (6th century) stands as a witness to the violent effort needed for entrance into God’s Kingdom (Mt.10: 12). The spiritual struggle of the Christian life is a real one, “not against flesh and blood, but against ... the rulers of the present darkness ... the hosts of wickedness in heavenly places ...” (Eph 6:12). Saint John encourages the faithful in their efforts for, according to the Lord, only “he who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt.24:13).
Saint Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow and Apostle to America was born as Vasily Ivanovich Belavin on January 19, 1865 into the family of Ioann Belavin, a rural priest of the Toropetz district of the Pskov diocese. His childhood and adolescence were spent in the village in direct contact with peasants and their labor. From his early years he displayed a particular religious disposition, love for the Church as well as rare meekness and humility.
When Vasily was still a boy, his father had a revelation about each of his children. One night, when he and his three sons slept in the hayloft, he suddenly woke up and roused them. He had seen his dead mother in a dream, who foretold to him his imminent death, and the fate of his three sons. She said that one would be unfortunate throughout his entire life, another would die young, while the third, Vasily, would be a great man. The prophecy of the dead woman proved to be entirely accurate in regard to all three brothers.
From 1878 to 1883, Vasily studied at the Pskov Theological Seminary. The modest seminarian was tender and affectionate by nature. He was fair-haired and tall of stature. His fellow students liked and respected him for his piety, brilliant progress in studies, and constant readiness to help comrades, who often turned to him for explanations of lessons, especially for help in drawing up and correcting numerous compositions. Vasily was called “bishop” and “patriarch” by his classmates.
In 1888, at the age of 23, Vasily Belavin graduated from the Saint Petersburg Theological Academy as a layman, and returned to the Pskov Seminary as an instructor of Moral and Dogmatic Theology. The whole seminary and the town of Pskov became very fond of him. He led an austere and chaste life, and in 1891, when he turned 26, he took monastic vows. Nearly the whole town gathered for the ceremony. He embarked on this new way of life consciously and deliberately, desiring to dedicate himself entirely to the service of the Church. The meek and humble young man was given the name Tikhon in honor of Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk.
He was transferred from the Pskov Seminary to the Kholm Theological Seminary in 1892, and was raised to the rank of archimandrite. Archimandrite Tikhon was consecrated Bishop of Lublin on October 19, 1897, and returned to Kholm for a year as Vicar Bishop of the Kholm Diocese. Bishop Tikhon zealously devoted his energy to the establishment of the new vicariate. His attractive moral make-up won the general affection, of not only the Russian population, but also of the Lithuanians and Poles. On September 14, 1898, Bishop Tikhon was made Bishop of the Aleutians and Alaska. As head of the Orthodox Church in America, Bishop Tikhon was a zealous laborer in the Lord’s vineyard.
He did much to promote the spread of Orthodoxy, and to improve his vast diocese. He reorganized the diocesan structure, and changed its name from “Diocese of the Aleutians and Alaska” to “Diocese of the Aleutians and North America” in 1900. Both clergy and laity loved their archpastor, and held him in such esteem that the Americans made Archbishop Tikhon an honorary citizen of the United States.
On May 22, 1901, he blessed the cornerstone for Saint Nicholas Cathedral in New York, and was also involved in establishing other churches. On November 9, 1902, he consecrated the church of Saint Nicholas in Brooklyn for the Syrian Orthodox immigrants. Two weeks later, he consecrated Saint Nicholas Cathedral in NY.
In 1905, the American Mission was made an Archdiocese, and Saint Tikhon was elevated to the rank of Archbishop. He had two vicar bishops: Bishop Innocent (Pustynsky) in Alaska, and Saint Raphael (Hawaweeny) in Brooklyn to assist him in administering his large, ethnically diverse diocese. In June of 1905, Saint Tikhon gave his blessing for the establishment of Saint Tikhon’s Monastery.
In 1907, he returned to Russia, and was appointed to Yaroslavl, where he quickly won the affection of his flock. They came to love him as a friendly, communicative, and wise archpastor. He spoke simply to his subordinates, never resorting to a peremptory or overbearing tone. When he had to reprimand someone, he did so in a good-natured, sometimes joking manner, which encouraged the person to correct his mistakes.
When Saint Tikhon was transferred to Lithuania on December 22, 1913, the people of Yaroslavl voted him an honorary citizen of their town. After his transfer to Vilnius, he did much in terms of material support for various charitable institutions. There too, his generous soul and love of people clearly manifested themselves. World War I broke out when His Eminence was in Vilnius. He spared no effort to help the poor residents of the Vilnius region who were left without a roof over their heads or means of subsistence as a result of the war with the Germans, and who flocked to their archpastor in droves.
After the February Revolution and formation of a new Synod, Saint Tikhon became one of its members. On June 21, 1917, the Moscow Diocesan Congress of clergy and laity elected him as their ruling bishop. He was a zealous and educated archpastor, widely known even outside his country.
On August 15, 1917, a local council was opened in Moscow, and Archbishop Tikhon was raised to the dignity of Metropolitan, and then elected as chairman of the council. The council had as its aim to restore the life of Russian Orthodox Church on strictly canonical principles, and its primary concern was the restoration of the Patriarchate. All council members would select three candidates, and then a lot would reveal the will of God. The council members chose three candidates: Archbishop Anthony of Kharkov, the wisest, Archbishop Arseny of Novgorod, the strictest, and Metropolitan Tikhon of Moscow, the kindest of the Russian hierarchs.
On November 5, following the Divine Liturgy and a Molieben in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, a monk removed one of the three ballots from the ballot box, which stood before the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God. Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev announced Metropolitan Tikhon as the newly elected Patriarch. Saint Tikhon did not change after becoming the primate of the Russian Orthodox Church. In accepting the will of the council, Patriarch Tikhon referred to the scroll that the Prophet Ezekiel had to eat, on which was written, “Lamentations, mourning, and woe.” He foresaw that his ministry would be filled with affliction and tears, but through all his suffering, he remained the same accessible, unassuming, and kindly person.
All who met Saint Tikhon were surprised by his accessibility, simplicity and modesty. His gentle disposition did not prevent him from showing firmness in Church matters, however, particularly when he had to defend the Church from her enemies. He bore a very heavy cross. He had to administer and direct the Church amidst wholesale church disorganization, without auxiliary administrative bodies, in conditions of internal schisms and upheavals by various adherents of the Living Church, renovationists, and autocephalists.
The situation was complicated by external circumstances: the change of the political system, by the accession to power of the godless regime, by hunger, and civil war. This was a time when Church property was being confiscated, when clergy were subjected to court trials and persecutions, and Christ’s Church endured repression. News of this came to the Patriarch from all ends of Russia. His exceptionally high moral and religious authority helped him to unite the scattered and enfeebled flock. At a crucial time for the church, his unblemished name was a bright beacon pointing the way to the truth of Orthodoxy. In his messages, he called on people to fulfill the commandments of Christ, and to attain spiritual rebirth through repentance. His irreproachable life was an example to all.
In order to save thousands of lives and to improve the general position of the church, the Patriarch took measures to prevent clergy from making purely political statements. On September 25, 1919, when the civil war was at its height, he issued a message to the clergy urging them to stay away from political struggle.
The summer of 1921 brought a severe famine to the Volga region. In August, Patriarch Tikhon issued a message to the Russian people and to the people of the world, calling them to help famine victims. He gave his blessing for voluntary donations of church valuables, which were not directly used in liturgical services. However, on February 23, 1922, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee published a decree making all valuables subject to confiscation.
According to the 73rd Apostolic Canon, such actions were regarded as sacrilege, and the Patriarch could not approve such total confiscation, especially since many doubted that the valuables would be used to combat famine. This forcible confiscation aroused popular indignation everywhere. Nearly two thousand trials were staged all over Russia, and more than ten thousand believers were shot. The Patriarch’s message was viewed as sabotage, for which he was imprisoned from April 1922 until June 1923.
His Holiness, Patriarch Tikhon did much on behalf of the Russian Orthodox Church during the crucial time of the so-called Renovationist schism. He showed himself to be a faithful servant and custodian of the undistorted precepts of the true Orthodox Church. He was the living embodiment of Orthodoxy, which was unconsciously recognized even by enemies of the church, who called its members “Tikhonites.”
When Renovationist priests and hierarchs repented and returned to the church, they were met with tenderness and love by Saint Tikhon. This, however, did not represent any deviation from his strictly Orthodox policy. “I ask you to believe me that I will not come to agreement or make concessions which could lead to the loss of the purity and strength of Orthodoxy,” the Patriarch said in 1924.
Being a good pastor, who devoted himself entirely to the church’s cause, he called upon the clergy to do the same: “Devote all your energy to preaching the word of God and the truth of Christ, especially today, when unbelief and atheism are audaciously attacking the Church of Christ. May the God of peace and love be with all of you!”
It was extremely painful and hard for the Patriarch’s loving, responsive heart to endure all the Church’s misfortunes. Upheavals in and outside the church, the Renovationist schism, his primatial labors, his concern for the organization and tranquility of Church life, sleepless nights and heavy thoughts, his confinement that lasted more than a year, the spiteful and wicked baiting of his enemies, and the unrelenting criticism sometimes even from the Orthodox, combined to undermine his strength and health.
In 1924, Patriarch Tikhon began to feel unwell. He checked into a hospital, but would leave it on Sundays and Feast Days in order to conduct services. On Sunday, April 5, 1925, he served his last Liturgy, and died two days later. On March 25/April 7, 1925 the Patriarch received Metropolitan Peter and had a long talk with him. In the evening, the Patriarch slept a little, then he woke up and asked what time it was. When he was told it was 11:45 P.M., he made the Sign of the Cross twice and said, “Glory to Thee, O Lord, glory to Thee.” He did not have time to cross himself a third time.
Almost a million people came to say farewell to the Patriarch. The large cathedral of the Donskoy Monastery in Moscow could not contain the crowd, which overflowed the monastery property into the square and adjacent streets. Saint Tikhon, the eleventh Patriarch of Moscow, was primate of the Russian Church for seven and a half years.
On September 26/October 9, 1989, the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church glorified Patriarch Tikhon and numbered him among the saints. For nearly seventy years, Saint Tikhon’s relics were believed lost, but in February 1992, they were discovered in a concealed place in the Donskoy Monastery.
It would be difficult to imagine the Russian Orthodox Church without Patriarch Tikhon during those years. He did so much for the Church and for the strengthening of the Faith itself during those difficult years of trial. Perhaps the saint’s own words can best sum up his life: “May God teach every one of us to strive for His truth, and for the good of the Holy Church, rather than something for our own sake.”
Saint George, Metropolitan of Mytilene, from his youth led a monastic life, and was especially accomplished in the virtue of humility. In the reign of Leo the Isaurian (716-741) the saint underwent persecution from the iconoclasts and became a Confessor.
During the reign of the emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitos (780-797) Saint George was elevated to the archbishopal cathedra of the city of Mytilene on the island of Lesbos. His life was radiant with prudence and purity and resembled the life of angels. He possessed a gift of wonderworking, cast out unclean spirits and healed incurable diseases. The saint distinguished himself by his compassion, and he helped all the needy. In 815, during the reign of the iconoclast Leo the Armenian (813-820), the holy archpastor was banished and sent to Cherson, where he died after the year 820.
At the hour of his death a bright star shone in the heavens over the city of Mytilene.
Saint Daniel of Pereslavl (in the world Demetrius) was born around 1460 in the city of Pereslavl-Zalessky. He was the son of pious and God-loving parents, Constantine and Theodosia, who later was tonsured as a nun with the name Thekla. Therefore, it is not surprising that from his childhood, Daniel had a great love for the monastic life. He learned a great deal about the angelic life from Igumen Jonah of the Monastery of Saint Nikitas the Stylite (May 24) at Pereyaslavl.
When Saint Daniel arrived at the Borov monastery in 1466, Saint Paphnutius (May 1) entrusted him to Elder Leucius of Volokolamsk (August 17), who was an experienced ascetic in the spiritual life. Saint Leucius was a disciple of Saint Paphnutius of Borov and an associate of Saint Joseph of Volokolamsk (September 9).Under his guidance, Saint Daniel reached his spiritual maturity.
Years later, Saint Daniel returned to Pereyaslavl, and there he demonstrated much love for his neighbor. He buried the neglected, the poor, and those without any family. The saint also founded a monastery on the site of the cemetery.
Anticipating the approach of death, Archimandrite Daniel was tonsured into the Great Schema. The blessed Elder reposed on April 7, 1540, in the 81st year of his life. His incorrupt relics were recovered in 1625.
The Lord glorified His saint with numerous miracles. Saint Daniel is also commemorated on December 30 and July 28.
The Holy Martyr Calliopius was born in Perge, Pamphylia of the pious woman Theoklia, wife of a renowned senator. Theoklia was childless for a long time. She fervently prayed for a son, vowing to dedicate him to God.
Soon after the birth of her son Theoklia was widowed. When Saint Calliopius reached adolescence, a fierce persecution against Christians began. Theoklia, learning that her son would be denounced as a Christian, sent him to Cilicia in Asia Minor.
When the saint arrived at Pompeiopolis, Paphlagonia there was a celebration in honor of the pagan gods. They invited the youth to take part in the proceedings, but he said he was a Christian and refused. They reported this to the prefect of the city Maximus. Saint Calliopius was brought before him to be tried. At first, he attempted to persuade Calliopius to worship the gods, promising to give him his own daughter in marriage. After the youth rejected this offer, Maximus subjected him to terrible tortures. He ordered the martyr to be beaten on the back with iron rods, and on the stomach with ox-hide thongs. Finally, the prefect had him tied to an iron wheel, and he was roasted over a slow fire. After these tortures, they threw the martyr Calliopius into prison.
When Theoklia heard about the sufferings of her son, she wrote her last will, freed her slaves, distributed her riches to the poor, and hastened to Saint Calliopius. The brave mother gave money to the guard and got into the prison to see her son. There she encouraged him to endure suffering to the end for Christ.
When on the following day the saint refused to renounce Christ, Maximus gave orders to crucify the martyr. The day of execution happened to be Great Thursday, when the Savior’s last meal with His disciples is commemorated.
Theoklia begged the guard to crucify her son head downward, since she considered it unworthy for him to be crucified like the Lord. Her wish was granted. The holy martyr hung on the cross overnight and died on Great Friday in the year 304.
When the holy martyr was removed from the cross, Theoklia gave glory to the Savior. She embraced the lifeless body of her son and gave up her own spirit to God. Christians buried their bodies in a single grave.
The Holy Martyr Rufinus the Deacon, the Martyr Aquilina, and 200 Soldiers with them suffered in around the year 310 in the city of Sinope on the Black Sea during the reign of the emperor Maximian (305-311). When the holy deacon Rufinus was put into prison for confessing Christianity, the martyr Aquilina showed concern. Therefore, she was also placed under guard. In prison they converted 200 soldiers to Christ by their miracles, and all of them were beheaded by the sword.
Saint Serapion lived during the fifth century in Egypt. He was called the linen cloth-wearer (Sindonite) since he wore only a coarse linen garb called a “sindon.” From his youth the monk lived like the birds of the air, without a shelter.
For several days at a time he did not eat, not having the means to buy bread. He gave away his sindon to a beggar who was shivering from the cold, and he himself was naked.
A certain Greek philosopher, wishing to test the non-covetousness of the monk, gave him a gold coin and watched him. The saint went to the bakery, bought one loaf of bread, gave the merchant the gold coin and left, having no regard for the value of the money.
Saint Serapion led many on the way of salvation. Once, he was the servant of a Greek actor, whom he converted to Christ. The actor, imitating the example of the holy life of the saint, believed and was baptized together with all his family. He asked Saint Serapion to remain with him not as a servant, but as a guide and friend, but the monk went away, not taking any of the money offered him.
Traveling to Rome, Saint Serapion got on a ship, but paid nothing to the ship owners. At first they began to reproach him for this, but noticing that the Elder had gone five days already without eating, they began to feed him for the sake of God, and in this they fulfilled the command of the Lord.
At Rome, the saint continued to wander about, going from house to house, having nothing, accumulating only spiritual wealth for himself and for his neighbor.