Lives of all saints commemorated on April 14


5th Sunday of Great Lent: St Mary of Egypt

Saint Zosimas (April 4) was a monk at a certain Palestinian monastery on the outskirts of Caesarea. Having dwelt at the monastery since his childhood, he lived there in asceticism until he reached the age of fifty-three. Then he was disturbed by the thought that he had attained perfection, and needed no one to instruct him. “Is there a monk anywhere who can show me some form of asceticism that I have not attained? Is there anyone who has surpassed me in spiritual sobriety and deeds?”

Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Zosimas, you have struggled valiantly, as far as this is in the power of man. However, there is no one who is righteous (Rom 3:10). So that you may know how many other ways lead to salvation, leave your native land, like Abraham from the house of his father (Gen 12:1), and go to the monastery by the Jordan.”

Abba Zosimas immediately left the monastery, and following the angel, he went to the Jordan monastery and settled in it.

Here he met Elders who were adept in contemplation, and also in their struggles. Never did anyone utter an idle word. Instead, they sang constantly, and prayed all night long. Abba Zosimas began to imitate the spiritual activity of the holy monks.

Thus much time passed, and the holy Forty Day Fast approached. There was a certain custom at the monastery, which was why God had led Saint Zosimas there. On the First Sunday of Great Lent the igumen served the Divine Liturgy, everyone received the All-Pure Body and Blood of Christ. Afterwards, they went to the trapeza for a small repast, and then assembled once more in church.

The monks prayed and made prostrations, asking forgiveness one of another. Then they made a prostration before the igumen and asked his blessing for the struggle that lay before them. During the Psalm “The Lord is my Light and my Savior, whom shall I fear? The Lord is defender of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps 26/27:1), they opened the monastery gate and went off into the wilderness.

Each took with him as much food as he needed, and went into the desert. When their food ran out, they ate roots and desert plants. The monks crossed the Jordan and scattered in various directions, so that no one might see how another fasted or how they spent their time.

The monks returned to the monastery on Palm Sunday, each having his own conscience as a witness of his ascetic struggles. It was a rule of the monastery that no one asked how anyone else had toiled in the desert.

Abba Zosimas, according to the custom of the monastery, went deep into the desert hoping to find someone living there who could benefit him.

He walked into the wilderness for twenty days and then, when he sang the Psalms of the Sixth Hour and made the usual prayers. Suddenly, to the right of the hill where he stood, he saw a human form. He was afraid, thinking that it might be a demonic apparition. Then he guarded himself with the Sign of the Cross, which removed his fear. He turned to the right and saw a form walking southward. The body was black from the blazing sunlight, and the faded short hair was white like a sheep’s fleece. Abba Zosimas rejoiced, since he had not seen any living thing for many days.

The desert-dweller saw Zosimas approaching, and attempted to flee from him. Abba Zosimas, forgetting his age and fatigue, quickened his pace. When he was close enough to be heard, he called out, “Why do you flee from me, a sinful old man? Wait for me, for the love of God.”

The stranger said to him, “Forgive me, Abba Zosimas, but I cannot turn and show my face to you. I am a woman, and as you see, I am naked. If you would grant the request of a sinful woman, throw me your cloak so I might cover my body, and then I can ask for your blessing.”

Then Abba Zosimas was terrified, realizing that she could not have called him by name unless she possessed spiritual insight.

Covered by the cloak, the ascetic turned to Zosimas: “Why do you want to speak with me, a sinful woman? What did you wish to learn from me, you who have not shrunk from such great labors?”

Abba Zosimas fell to the ground and asked for her blessing. She also bowed down before him, and for a long time they remained on the ground each asking the other to bless. Finally, the woman ascetic said: “Abba Zosimas, you must bless and pray, since you are honored with the grace of the priesthood. For many years you have stood before the holy altar, offering the Holy Gifts to the Lord.”

These words frightened Saint Zosimas even more. With tears he said to her, “O Mother! It is clear that you live with God and are dead to this world. You have called me by name and recognized me as a priest, though you have never seen me before. The grace granted you is apparent, therefore bless me, for the Lord’s sake.”

Yielding finally to his entreaties, she said, “Blessed is God, Who cares for the salvation of men.” Abba Zosimas replied, “Amen.” Then they rose to their feet. The woman ascetic again said to the Elder, “Why have you come, Father, to me who am a sinner, bereft of every virtue? Apparently, the grace of the Holy Spirit has brought you to do me a service. But tell me first, Abba, how do the Christians live, how is the Church guided?”

Abba Zosimas answered her, “By your holy prayers God has granted the Church and us all a lasting peace. But fulfill my unworthy request, Mother, and pray for the whole world and for me a sinner, that my wanderings in the desert may not be useless.”

The holy ascetic replied, “You, Abba Zosimas, as a priest, ought to pray for me and for all, for you are called to do this. However, since we must be obedient, I will do as you ask.

The saint turned toward the East, and raising her eyes to heaven and stretching out her hands, she began to pray in a whisper. She prayed so softly that Abba Zosimas could not hear her words. After a long time, the Elder looked up and saw her standing in the air more than a foot above the ground. Seeing this, Zosimas threw himself down on the ground, weeping and repeating, “Lord, have mercy!”

Then he was tempted by a thought. He wondered if she might not be a spirit, and if her prayer could be insincere. At that moment she turned around, lifted him from the ground and said, “Why do your thoughts confuse you, Abba Zosimas? I am not an apparition. I am a sinful and unworthy woman, though I am guarded by holy Baptism.”

Then she made the Sign of the Cross and said, “May God protect us from the Evil One and his schemes, for fierce is his struggle against us.” Seeing and hearing this, the Elder fell at her feet with tears saying, “I beseech you by Christ our God, do not conceal from me who you are and how you came into this desert. Tell me everything, so that the wondrous works of God may be revealed.”

She replied, “It distresses me, Father, to speak to you about my shameless life. When you hear my story, you might flee from me, as if from a poisonous snake. But I shall tell you everything, Father, concealing nothing. However, I exhort you, cease not to pray for me a sinner, that I may find mercy on the Day of Judgment.

“I was born in Egypt and when I was twelve years old, I left my parents and went to Alexandria. There I lost my chastity and gave myself to unrestrained and insatiable sensuality. For more than seventeen years I lived like that and I did it all for free. Do not think that I refused the money because I was rich. I lived in poverty and worked at spinning flax. To me, life consisted in the satisfaction of my fleshly lust.

“One summer I saw a crowd of people from Libya and Egypt heading toward the sea. They were on their way to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. I also wanted to sail with them. Since I had no food or money, I offered my body in payment for my passage. And so I embarked on the ship.

“Now, Father, believe me, I am very amazed, that the sea tolerated my wantonness and fornication, that the earth did not open up its mouth and take me down alive into hell, because I had ensnared so many souls. I think that God was seeking my repentance. He did not desire the death of a sinner, but awaited my conversion.

“So I arrived in Jerusalem and spent all the days before the Feast living the same sort of life, and maybe even worse.

“When the holy Feast of the Exaltation of the Venerable Cross of the Lord arrived, I went about as before, looking for young men. At daybreak I saw that everyone was heading to the church, so I went along with the rest. When the hour of the Holy Elevation drew nigh, I was trying to enter into the church with all the people. With great effort I came almost to the doors, and attempted to squeeze inside. Although I stepped up to the threshold, it was as though some force held me back, preventing me from entering. I was brushed aside by the crowd, and found myself standing alone on the porch. I thought that perhaps this happened because of my womanly weakness. I worked my way into the crowd, and again I attempted to elbow people aside. However hard I tried, I could not enter. Just as my feet touched the church threshold, I was stopped. Others entered the church without difficulty, while I alone was not allowed in. This happened three or four times. Finally my strength was exhausted. I went off and stood in a corner of the church portico.

“Then I realized that it was my sins that prevented me from seeing the Life-Creating Wood. The grace of the Lord then touched my heart. I wept and lamented, and I began to beat my breast. Sighing from the depths of my heart, I saw above me an icon of the Most Holy Theotokos. Turning to Her, I prayed: “O Lady Virgin, who gave birth in the flesh to God the Word! I know that I am unworthy to look upon your icon. I rightly inspire hatred and disgust before your purity, but I know also that God became Man in order to call sinners to repentance. Help me, O All-Pure One. Let me enter the church. Allow me to behold the Wood upon which the Lord was crucified in the flesh, shedding His Blood for the redemption of sinners, and also for me. Be my witness before Your Son that I will never defile my body again with the impurity of fornication. As soon as I have seen the Cross of your Son, I will renounce the world, and go wherever you lead me.”

“After I had spoken, I felt confidence in the compassion of the Mother of God, and left the spot where I had been praying. I joined those entering the church, and no one pushed me back or prevented me from entering. I went on in fear and trembling, and entered the holy place.

“Thus I also saw the Mysteries of God, and how God accepts the penitant. I fell to the holy ground and kissed it. Then I hastened again to stand before the icon of the Mother of God, where I had given my vow. Bending my knees before the Virgin Theotokos, I prayed:

“‘O Lady, you have not rejected my prayer as unworthy. Glory be to God, Who accepts the repentance of sinners. It is time for me to fulfill my vow, which you witnessed. Therefore, O Lady, guide me on the path of repentance.’”

“Then I heard a voice from on high: ‘If you cross the Jordan, you will find glorious rest.’

“I immediately believed that this voice was meant for me, and I cried out to the Mother of God: ‘O Lady, do not forsake me!’

“Then I left the church portico and started on my journey. A certain man gave me three coins as I was leaving the church. With them I bought three loaves of bread, and asked the bread merchant the way to the Jordan.

“It was nine o’clock when I saw the Cross. At sunset I reached the church of Saint John the Baptist on the banks of the Jordan. After praying in the church, I went down to the Jordan and washed my face and hands in its water. Then in this same temple of Saint John the Forerunner I received the Life-Creating Mysteries of Christ. Then I ate half of one of my loaves of bread, drank water from the holy Jordan, and slept there that night on the ground. In the morning I found a small boat and crossed the river to the opposite shore. Again I prayed that the Mother of God would lead me where She wished. Then I found myself in this desert.”

Abba Zosimas asked her, “How many years have passed since you began to live in the desert?”

“‘I think,” she replied, “it is forty-seven years since I came from the Holy City.”

Abba Zosimas again asked, “What food do you find here, Mother?”

And she said, “I had with me two and a half loaves of bread when I crossed the Jordan. Soon they dried out and hardened Eating a little at a time, I finished them after a few years.”

Again Abba Zosimas asked, “Is it possible you have survived for so many years without sickness, and without suffering in any way from such a complete change?”

“Believe me, Abba Zosimas,” the woman said, “I spent seventeen years in this wilderness (after she had spent seventeen years in immorality), fighting wild beasts: mad desires and passions. When I began to eat bread, I thought of the meat and fish which I had in abundance in Egypt. I also missed the wine that I loved so much when I was in the world, while here I did not even have water. I suffered from thirst and hunger. I also had a mad desire for lewd songs. I seemed to hear them, disturbing my heart and my hearing. Weeping and striking myself on the breast, I remembered the vow I had made. At last I beheld a radiant Light shining on me from everywhere. After a violent tempest, a lasting calm ensued.

“Abba, how shall I tell you of the thoughts that urged me on to fornication? A fire seemed to burn within me, awakening in me the desire for embraces. Then I would throw myself to the ground and water it with my tears. I seemed to see the Most Holy Virgin before me, and She seemed to threaten me for not keeping my vow. I lay face downward day and night upon the ground, and would not get up until that blessed Light encircled me, dispelling the evil thoughts that troubled me.

“Thus I lived in this wilderness for the first seventeen years. Darkness after darkness, misery after misery stood about me, a sinner. But from that time until now the Mother of God helps me in everything.”

Abba Zosimas again inquired, “How is it that you require neither food, nor clothing?”

She answered, “After finishing my bread, I lived on herbs and the things one finds in the desert. The clothes I had when I crossed over the Jordan became torn and fell apart. I suffered both from the summer heat, when the blazing heat fell upon me, and from the winter cold, when I shivered from the frost. Many times I fell down upon the earth, as though dead. I struggled with various afflictions and temptations. But from that time until the present day, the power of God has guarded my sinful soul and humble body. I was fed and clothed by the all-powerful word of God, since man does not live by bread alone, but by every word proceeding from the mouth of God (Dt 8:3, Mt.4:4, Luke 4:4), and those who have put off the old man (Col 3:9) have no refuge, hiding themselves in the clefts of the rocks (Job 24:8, Heb 11:38). When I remember from what evil and from what sins the Lord delivered me, I have imperishible food for salvation.”

When Abba Zosimas heard that the holy ascetic quoted the Holy Scripture from memory, from the Books of Moses and Job and from the Psalms of David, he then asked the woman, “Mother, have you read the Psalms and other books?”

She smiled at hearing this question, and answered, “Believe me, I have seen no human face but yours from the time that I crossed over the Jordan. I never learned from books. I have never heard anyone read or sing from them. Perhaps the Word of God, which is alive and acting, teaches man knowledge by itself (Col 3:16, 1 Thess 2:13). This is the end of my story. As I asked when I began, I beg you for the sake of the Incarnate Word of God, holy Abba, pray for me, a sinner.

“Furthermore, I beg you, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, tell no one what you have heard from me, until God takes me from this earth. Next year, during Great Lent, do not cross the Jordan, as is the custom of your monastery.”

Again Abba Zosimas was amazed, that the practice of his monastery was known to the holy woman ascetic, although he had not said anything to her about this.

“Remain at the monastery,” the woman continued. “Even if you try to leave the monastery, you will not be able to do so. On Great and Holy Thursday, the day of the Lord’s Last Supper, place the Life-Creating Body and Blood of Christ our God in a holy vessel, and bring it to me. Await me on this side of the Jordan, at the edge of the desert, so that I may receive the Holy Mysteries. And say to Abba John, the igumen of your community, ‘Look to yourself and your brothers’ (1 Tim 4:16), for there is much that needs correction. Do not say this to him now, but when the Lord shall indicate.”

Asking for his prayers, the woman turned and vanished into the depths of the desert.

For a whole year Elder Zosimas remained silent, not daring to reveal to anyone what he had seen, and he prayed that the Lord would grant him to see the holy ascetic once more.

When the first week of Great Lent came again, Saint Zosimas was obliged to remain at the monastery because of sickness. Then he remembered the woman’s prophetic words that he would not be able to leave the monastery. After several days went by, Saint Zosimas was healed of his infirmity, but he remained at the monastery until Holy Week.

On Holy Thursday, Abba Zosimas did what he had been ordered to do. He placed some of the Body and Blood of Christ into a chalice, and some food in a small basket. Then he left the monastery and went to the Jordan and waited for the ascetic. The saint seemed tardy, and Abba Zosimas prayed that God would permit him to see the holy woman.

Finally, he saw her standing on the far side of the river. Rejoicing, Saint Zosimas got up and glorified God. Then he wondered how she could cross the Jordan without a boat. She made the Sign of the Cross over the water, then she walked on the water and crossed the Jordan. Abba Zosimas saw her in the moonlight, walking toward him. When the Elder wanted to make prostration before her, she forbade him, crying out, “What are you doing, Abba? You are a priest and you carry the Holy Mysteries of God.”

Reaching the shore, she said to Abba Zosimas, “Bless me, Father.” He answered her with trembling, astonished at what he had seen. “Truly God did not lie when he promised that those who purify themselves will be like Him. Glory to You, O Christ our God, for showing me through your holy servant, how far I am from perfection.”

The woman asked him to recite both the Creed and the “Our Father.” When the prayers were finished, she partook of the Holy Mysteries of Christ. Then she raised her hands to the heavens and said, “Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen Your salvation.”

The saint turned to the Elder and said, “Please, Abba, fulfill another request. Go now to your monastery, and in a year’s time come to the place where we first time spoke.”

He said, “If only it were possible for me to follow you and always see your holy face!”

She replied, “For the Lord’s sake, pray for me and remember my wrechedness.”

Again she made the Sign of the Cross over the Jordan, and walked over the water as before, and disappeared into the desert. Zosimas returned to the monastery with joy and terror, reproaching himself because he had not asked the saint’s name. He hoped to do so the following year.

A year passed, and Abba Zosimas went into the desert. He reached the place where he first saw the holy woman ascetic. She lay dead, with arms folded on her bosom, and her face was turned to the east. Abba Zosimas washed her feet with his tears and kissed them, not daring to touch anything else. For a long while he wept over her and sang the customary Psalms, and said the funeral prayers. He began to wonder whether the saint would want him to bury her or not. Hardly had he thought this, when he saw something written on the ground near her head: “Abba Zosimas, bury on this spot the body of humble Mary. Return to dust what is dust. Pray to the Lord for me. I reposed on the first day of April, on the very night of the saving Passion of Christ, after partaking of the Mystical Supper.”

Reading this note, Abba Zosimas was glad to learn her name. He then realized that Saint Mary, after receiving the Holy Mysteries from his hand, was transported instantaneously to the place where she died, though it had taken him twenty days to travel that distance.

Glorifying God, Abba Zosimas said to himself, “It is time to do what she asks. But how can I dig a grave, with nothing in my hands?” Then he saw a small piece of wood left by some traveler. He picked it up and began to dig. The ground was hard and dry, and he could not dig it. Looking up, Abba Zosimas saw an enormous lion standing by the saint’s body and licking her feet. Fear gripped the Elder, but he guarded himself with the Sign of the Cross, believing that he would remain unharmed through the prayers of the holy woman ascetic. Then the lion came close to the Elder, showing its friendliness with every movement. Abba Zosimas commanded the lion to dig the grave, in order to bury Saint Mary’s body. At his words, the lion dug a hole deep enough to bury the body. Then each went his own way. The lion went into the desert, and Abba Zosimas returned to the monastery, blessing and praising Christ our God.

Arriving at the monastery, Abba Zosimas related to the monks and the igumen, what he had seen and heard from Saint Mary. All were astonished, hearing about the miracles of God. They always remembered Saint Mary with faith and love on the day of her repose.

Abba John, the igumen of the monastery, heeded the words of Saint Mary, and with the help of God corrected the things that were wrong at the monastery. Abba Zosimas lived a God-pleasing life at the monastery, reaching nearly a hundred years of age. There he finished his temporal life, and passed into life eternal.

The monks passed on the life of Saint Mary of Egypt by word of mouth without writing it down.

“I however,” says Saint Sophronius of Jerusalem (March 11), “wrote down the Life of Saint Mary of Egypt as I heard it from the holy Fathers. I have recorded everything, putting the truth above all else.”

“May God, Who works great miracles and bestows gifts on all who turn to Him in faith, reward those who hear or read this account, and those who copy it. May he grant them a blessed portion together with Saint Mary of Egypt and with all the saints who have pleased God by their pious thoughts and works. Let us give glory to God, the Eternal King, that we may find mercy on the Day of Judgment through our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom is due all glory, honor, majesty and worship together with the Unoriginate Father, and the Most Holy and Life-Creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.”


Saint Martin the Confessor, Pope of Rome

Saint Martin the Confessor, Pope of Rome, was a native of the Tuscany region of Italy. He received a fine education and entered into the clergy of the Roman Church. After the death of Pope Theodore I (642-649), Martin was chosen to succeed him.

At this time the peace of the Church was disturbed by the Monothelite heresy (the false doctrine that in Christ there is only one will, whereas in fact He has a divine, and a human will). The endless disputes of the Monothelites with the Orthodox took place in all levels of the population. Even the emperor Constans (641-668) and Patriarch Paul of Constantinople (641-654) were adherents of the Monothelite heresy. The emperor Constans II published the heretical “Pattern of Faith” (Typos), obligatory for all the population. In it all further disputes were forbidden.

The heretical “Pattern of Faith” was received at Rome in the year 649. Saint Martin, a firm supporter of Orthodoxy, convened the Lateran Council at Rome to condemn the Monothelite heresy. At the same time Saint Martin sent a letter to Patriarch Paul, persuading him to return to the Orthodox confession of faith. The enraged emperor ordered the military commander Olympius to bring Saint Martin to trial. But Olympius feared the clergy and the people of Rome who had descended upon the Council, and he sent a soldier to murder the holy hierarch. When the assassin approached Saint Martin, he was blinded. The terrified Olympius fled to Sicily and was soon killed in battle.

In 654 the emperor sent another military commander, Theodore, to Rome. He accused Saint Martin of being in secret correspondence with the enemies of the Empire, the Saracens, and of blaspheming the Most Holy Theotokos, and of uncanonically assuming the papal throne.

Despite the proofs offered by the Roman clergy and laity of Saint Martin’s innocence, the military commander Theodore with a detachment of soldiers seized Saint Martin by night and took him to Naxos, one of the Cyclades islands in the Aegean Sea. Saint Martin spent an entire year on this almost unpopulated island, suffering deprivation and abuse from the guards. Then they sent the exhausted confessor to Constantinople for trial.

They carried the sick man on a stretcher, but the judges callously ordered him to stand up and answer their questions. The soldiers propped up the saint, who was weakened by illness. False witnesses came forward slandering the saint and accusing him of treasonous relations with the Saracens. The biased judges did not even bother to hear the saint’s defense. In sorrow he said, “The Lord knows what a great kindness you would show me if you would deliver me quickly over to death.”

After such a trial they brought the saint out in tattered clothes to a jeering crowd. They shouted, “Anathema to Pope Martin!” But those who knew the holy Pope was suffering unjustly, withdrew in tears. Finally the sentence was announced: Saint Martin was to be deposed from his rank and executed. They bound the half-naked saint with chains and dragged him to prison, where they locked him up with thieves. These were more merciful to the saint than the heretics.

In the midst of all this the emperor went to the dying Patriarch Paul and told him of the trial of Saint Martin. He turned away from the emperor and said, “Woe is me! This is another reason for my judgment.” He asked that Saint Martin’s torments be stopped. The emperor again sent a notary and other persons to the saint in prison to interrogate him. The saint answered, “Even if they cripple me, I will not have relations with the Church of Constantinople while it remains in its evil doctrines.” The torturers were astonished at the confessor’s boldness, and they commuted his death sentence to exile at Cherson in the Crimea.

There the saint died, exhausted by sickness, hunger and deprivations on September 16, 655. He was buried outside the city in the Blachernae church of the Most Holy Theotokos, and later the relics of the holy confessor Martin were transferred to Rome.

The Monothelite heresy was condemned at the Sixth Ecumenical Council in 680.


Martyrs Anthony, John, and Eustathius of Vilnius

The Holy Martyrs Anthony, John, and Eustathius (Kumetis, Nizilas, and Krulis) were brothers who suffered for Christ under the Lithuanian Great Prince Algirdas (1345-1377). The prince was married to the Orthodox princess Maria Yaroslavna (+ 1346). He was baptized and during his wife’s lifetime he allowed the preaching of Christianity. Two brothers, Nizilas and Kumetis (Nezhilo and Kumets), received holy Baptism from the priest Nestor, and they received the names Anthony and John. And at the request of Maria Yaroslavna an Orthodox church was built at Vilnius (Vilna).

After the death of his spouse, Prince Algirdas began to support the pagan priests of the fire-worshippers, who started a persecution against Christians. Saints John and Anthony endeavored not to flaunt their Christianity, but they did not observe pagan customs. They did not cut their hair as the pagans did, and on fast days they did not eat forbidden foods.

The prince soon became suspicious of the brothers, so he interrogated them and they confessed themselves Christians. Then he demanded that they eat meat (it was a fast day). The holy brothers refused, and the prince locked them up in prison. The brothers spent an entire year behind bars. John took fright at the impending tortures and declared that he would obey all the demands of the Great Prince. The delighted Algirdas released the brothers and brought them to himself.

But Anthony did not betray Christ. When he refused to eat meat on a fast day, the prince again locked him up in prison and subjected him to brutal tortures. The other brother remained free, but both Christians and pagans regarded him as a traitor and would not associate with him.

Repenting of his sin, John went to the priest Nestor and entreated him to ask his brother to forgive him. “When he openly confesses Christ, we will be reconciled,” Anthony replied. Once, while serving the prince at the bath, Saint John spoke privately with him about his reconciliation with the Church. Algirdas did not display any anger and said that he could believe in Christ, but must conduct himself like all the pagans. Then Saint John confessed himself a Christian in the presence of numerous courtiers. They beat him fiercely with rods and sent him to his brother in prison. The martyrs met with joy, and received the Holy Mysteries that same day.

Many people went to the prison to see the new confessor. The brothers converted many to Christ by their preaching. The prison was transformed into a Christian school. The frightened pagan priests demanded the execution of the brothers, but they did not fear death.

On the morning of April 14, 1347 the Martyr Anthony was hanged on a tree after receiving the Holy Mysteries. This oak, which the pagans considered sacred, became truly sacred for Orthodox Christians.

The pagan priests who hoped that Christian preaching would stop with the death of Saint Anthony, were disappointed. A multitude of the people gathered before the walls of the prison where Saint John was being held. On April 24, 1347 they strangled him and hanged his dead body upon the same oak. The venerable bodies of both martyrs were buried by Christians in the church of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker.

A third sufferer for Christ was their relative Krulis (Kruglets). At Baptism the priest Nestor named him Eustathius. Krulis stood out because of his comeliness, valor and bravery, but even more because of his mind and virtue of soul. A favorite of Algirdas, he could count on a very promising future. However, he also refused to eat meat at the festal table. Saint Eustathius openly declared that he was a Christian and would not eat meat because of the Nativity Fast.

They began to beat him with iron rods, but the youth did not make a sound. The prince tried refining the torture. Algirdas gave orders to strip the martyr naked, take him out on the street and to pour icy water in his mouth. But this did not break his spirit. Then they broke his ankle bones, and ripped the hair and skin from his head, and cut off his ears and nose. Saint Eustathius endured the torments with such gladness and courage, that the very torturers themselves were astounded by the divine power which strengthened him. The martyr Eustathius was sentenced to death and hanged on the same oak where Saints John and Anthony received a martyr’s death (December 13, 1347).

For three days no one was permitted to take down the body of the martyr, and a column of cloud protected it from birds and beasts of prey. A church was later built on the hill where the holy martyrs suffered. The trinity of venerable passion bearers glorified the true God worshiped in the Holy Trinity, Father and Son and Holy Spirit. The church was dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity. The altar table was built on the stump of the sacred oak on which the martyrs died.

Soon their relics were found to be incorrupt. In 1364 Patriarch Philotheus of Constantinople (1354-1355, 1364-1376) sent a cross with the relics of the holy martyrs to Saint Sergius of Radonezh (September 25). The Church established the celebration of all three martyrs on April 14.

The holy martyrs were of immense significance for all the Western frontier. Vilnius’s monastery of the Holy Trinity, where the holy relics are kept, became a stronghold of Orthodoxy on this frontier. In 1915 during the invasion of the Germans, these relics were taken to Moscow.

The relics of the holy passion-bearers were returned to the Vilnius Holy Spirit monastery in 1946. The commemoration of their return (July 13) is solemnly observed at the monastery each year.


Martyr Ardalion the Actor

The Holy Martyr Ardalion suffered for Christ under the emperor Maximian Galerius (305-311). Saint Ardalion was a talented actor.

Once, he played the role of a Christian. In the play, the actor at first refused to offer sacrifice to idols, but then consented to renounce Christ. Suddenly the saint ordered everyone to be quiet and declared that he actually was a Christian.

Saint Ardalion continued to confess his faith in Christ. Then the governor ordered the martyr to be thrown onto a red-hot iron grill. So Saint Ardalion attained a martyr’s crown.


Martyr Azades the Eunuch and 1,000 Martyrs of Persia

Saint Azades (Azat) was a wealthy man who served in the household of King Shapur II of Persia, and enjoyed his confidence. He was arrested for professing Christianity, and then suffered martyrdom with 1000 other Christians. After this, the king repented and ordered an end to the persecution of Christians.


Icon of the Mother of God of Vilnius

The Vilnius (Vilna) Icon of the Mother of God was painted by the holy Evangelist Luke. For a long time it was in the family of the Greek emperors at Constantinople. In 1472 Sophia Paleologina, wife of the Moscow Great Prince Ivan III (1462-1505), transferred the icon to Moscow.

In 1495, the Great Prince blessed his daughter Elena with this icon before giving her in marriage to the Lithuanian king Alexander. The Church celebrates the transfer of this icon to Vilnius on February 15.

Later, the holy icon was placed in the church of Saint John the Forerunner, in which Princess Elena was buried. Afterwards, they transferred the icon to Vilnius’s Holy Trinity Monastery.

The Vilnius icon is also commemorated on February 15.