The artos, which was blessed after the Liturgy of Pascha, is cut and distributed after Liturgy on Bright Saturday. The prayer read today speaks of Christ as the Bread of Life.
The holy New Martyr Archpriest Vasily Martysz was born on February 20, 1874 in Tertyn, in the Hrubieszow region of southeastern Poland. His father Alexander was a judge in Molczyce near Pinsk. After his retirement, he was ordained a priest and became rector of a local parish.
In 1884, at the age of ten, Vasily made a brief trip to New York with his father. His beautiful singing during a church service attracted the attention of Bishop Vladimir. The hierarch prophesied that young Vasily would become a priest, and promised that he would invite him to his diocese in America once he was ordained. After returning to his country, he remembered the bishop’s words, and decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a priest. He began his theological education at the seminary in Chelm, where the rector was Bishop Tikhon (Belavin), the future Patriarch of Moscow.
Immediately after graduating in July 1899, Vasily married Olga Nowik, and was ordained a deacon. On December 10, 1900 he was ordained a priest. That same month he left Breman for America. The young couple expected to be assigned to a parish in New York, but instead he was appointed to a parish in Alaska. Together with the newly-appointed Bishop Tikhon, he began his missionary service in the land of Saint Herman.
Orthodoxy had arrived in Alaska with the coming of the monastic mission from Valaam in 1794. At the start of the twentieth century, climatic and social conditions in this vast territory remained difficult. In his pastoral work, Father Vasily met Russian settlers and indigenous inhabitants of the region, Eskimos and Aleuts. He also encountered gold rush pioneers quite often..
Father Vasily’s first parish was extensive. He was headquartered on Afognak, but he was also responsible for the people on Spruce and Woody Islands near Kodiak. There were several small wooden chapels scattered on these islands. In 1901, as a result of his efforts, the church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Virgin was built at Afognak. Although the village was completely destroyed in the earthquake and tidal wave of 1964, the church building survives to this day.
Because of the long distances and severe climate, Father Vasily’s priestly work was extremely difficult and required many sacrifices. Often he would leave home for several weeks, in order to celebrate the services, to confess, baptize, marry the living, and to bury the dead, while traveling in a specially constructed kayak.
Even when he was at home, Father Vasily had very little time to devote to his dear family. Besides celebrating the services in church and serving the needs of his parishioners, he taught in the parish school and worked in two church homes for the poor. His family bore the arduous conditions, especially the climate, with difficulty. His wife Olga, who had given birth to two daughters, stayed home. The older daughter, Vera, was born at Afognak in 1902. Their second daughter was born two years later, after they had moved to Kodiak.
During his missionary service in Alaska, Father Vasily kept a diary. It has survived to this day as one of the few records of his personal life. Fragments have been translated from Russian and published in Polish.
Because of the severe Alaskan climate, which especially affected Matushka Olga, and out of concern for the education of their children, the Martysz family transferred to the continental United States in 1906. As a farewell statement from Alaska that year, Father Vasily wrote an article for the Russian Orthodox American Messenger, “The Voice from Alaska,” in which he appealed to Orthodox faithful across the USA to support the building of Orthodox churches in Alaska.
The family settled in Osceola Mills in central Pennsylvania. Their first son, Vasily, was born that same year, and their youngest child Helen was born in 1908, soon after they moved to Old Forge, PA. Father Vasily’s work took him to Waterbury, CT, to West Troy, NY, and finally to Canada. He was assigned to Edmonton and then to Vostok, where he became Dean of the provinces of Alberta and Manitoba. In 1910, he celebrated his tenth anniversary in the priesthood. His prolific and loving pastoral activity endeared him to his flock. Church authorities considered him a very effective, devoted and talented priest, while the faithful loved him sincerely, valuing his modesty and kindness.
Despite their comfortable lifestyle and the relatively large Orthodox community they served in western Canada, the couple longed for their homeland. They feared the loss of their ancestral identity and requested permission to return to Poland. After serving nearly twelve years in America, Father Martysz left the New World and returned to Europe in 1912.
Initially, Father Vasily and his family lived with relatives in Sosnowiec, where he eventually became rector of the parish and instructor in Religious Education at the local girls’ high school. The peaceful life they enjoyed there lasted barely one year, since the outbreak of the First World war disrupted the lives of thousands. Clergy were considered civil servants who were ordered to evacuate their homes, and move to safety inside Russia. At this critical time, Bishop Vladimir, their Archpastor and friend from Alaska, offered the Martysz family refuge in a small apartment within the Saint Andronicus Monastery in Moscow. From here, Father Vasily commuted daily to the distant parish at Valdai, where he taught religious education classes. When the Bolsheviks seized power, he lost this job and was forced to earn a living unloading railroad cars. His own life was endangered because Red Army soldiers often treated clergy with distinct brutality.
In 1919, at the end of the war, Polish refugees were granted permission to return to their former residences. Father Vasily and his family took this opportunity to return to Sosnowiec. They moved back into their former apartment, which had survived the devastation of the war. They did not remain long, however, for that September Father Vasily was assigned to a position in the newly organized Polish Army, in charge of Orthodox Affairs in the Religious Ministry of the War Department. The whole family relocated to Warsaw. Father Vasily started the wearisome but important work of forming an Orthodox military chaplaincy. In 1921, he was promoted to the rank of colonel, and assumed responsibility as the head of the Orthodox military chaplaincy. At this time, the church elevated him to the rank of Archpriest. Father Vasily served as chief of Orthodox chaplains for the next twenty-five years. Within the Ministry of the Interior, he had his own cabinet, and was directly responsible to the Minister himself.
Father Vasily was also a chief advisor and close colleague of Metropolitan George (Jaroszewski) of Warsaw and all Poland. He participated in preparing all the meetings of the Holy Synod, and assisted Metropolitan George in his effort to obtain autocephaly for the Polish Orthodox Church. He accompanied the Metropolitan on the tragic day of February 8, 1923, when he was assassinated. The assassin had also planned to kill Father Vasily as well, but he was captured before he could succeed. Father Vasily remained under police protection for some time, but attended to all the details of the Metropolitan’s funeral, in which the First Regiment of the Szwolezers Regiment participated under orders from Marshal Jozef Pilsudski.
Father Vasily zealously participated in the subsequent process of obtaining autocephaly for the Orthodox Church in Poland, which was granted during the tenure of Metropolitan Dionysius (Walednski) in 1925. Father Vasily became the Metropolitan’s closest advisor and confidant. He often accompanied the Metropolitan and acted as liaison with the Polish Head of State, Marshal Pilsudski. He was often invited to attend cabinet meetings at Belvedere, the Royal Castle, where he regularly signed the guest book on holidays.
In addition to his work as chief military chaplain, Father Vasily devoted much time to organizing pastoral ministry in the Ukrainian internment camps. In February 1921, Father Vasily appointed Father Peter Biton as chaplain for the camp in Aleksandrow Kujawski. He visited the Ukrainian internees himself and helped arrange camp churches. On July 8, 1921, he celebrated the Divine Liturgy in the Ukrainian language for over 5,000 prisoners, while visiting this camp. His sermon, delivered in Ukrainian, greatly improved their morale. He also assisted in organizing chaplains’ training courses in other Ukrainian army camps.
The Polish Secretary of the Army, Lucjan Zeligowski sent a congratulatory letter to Father Vasily on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of his ordination, December 7, 1925, stating “The virtues of this remarkably talented, conscientious and diligent servant, completely devoted to the Polish nation, expressed in his receiving a high distinction, the Order of Polonia Restituta, which is conferred upon him for his efforts in securing the Autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in Poland.”
Father Vasily retired from his government position in 1936. The couple decided to leave Warsaw and return to their home region, Hrubieszowszczna. They built two houses in Teratyn, one for themselves and another for their widowed mothers. They did not enjoy this peaceful life for very long, because in 1939 the German Army invaded Poland. The village gradually declined. Both of their mothers died. Matushka herself did not live to see the end of the war, but died in 1943. Then Father Vasily’s youngest daughter, Helen, moved into his house with her husband and daughter in order to support him.
Father Martysz spent the difficult war years in Teratyn. On May 4, 1945 (Great and Holy Friday), a few days before the surrender of Nazi Germany, his house was attacked. A female acquaintance warned him of the danger, but he replied, “I have done no harm to anyone and I will not run away from anyone. Christ did not run away.” Father Vasily did not fear and did not flee from his tormentors. He faced them bravely, in a Christ-like way, accepting the crown of martyrdom. The villains, seeking gold and money, had no respect for his uniform as a colonel in the Polish Army, nor for his priestly vestments.
The bandits broke into the house by breaking a window. With callous cruelty they tortured Father Vasily though his only crime was that he was an Orthodox priest. They beat his pregnant daughter Helen, causing her to miscarry. They beat Father Vasily for four hours, reviving him by throwing water on him when he lost consciousness. Horribly tortured, he was finally murdered by a gun shot. The criminals threatened to shoot Helen as well, When she knelt before the icon of Christ and began to pray, the executioner’s aim and resolve weakened. They left, threatening to return and kill her as well.
On Great and Holy Saturday, Father John Lewczuk celebrated the burial rites for Father Vasily in Chelm. He was buried at the local cemetery in Teratyn.
In October 1963, the earthly remains of Father Vasily Martysz were brought to Warsaw and solemnly reinterred in the Orthodox cemetery in the Wola district, next to his wife and mother-in-law. At the beginning of 2003, his holy relics were uncovered and placed in the church of Saint John Climacus in Warsaw. The Holy Synod of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Poland promulgated the official Act of Canonization on March 20, 2003, and the rites glorifying Saint Vasily Martysz were celebrated in Chelm on June 7-8.
Orthodox Christians in the Polish Army have taken Saint Vasily Martysz as their heavenly patron. The martyrdom of Saint Vasily was the crowning accomplishment of his pious and dedicated life, a testimony to his amazing courage. He carried his cross to the end without complaint, accepting the crown of martyrdom as he had dedicated his life to Christ and the Holy Orthodox Faith.
Written by Jaroslaw Charkiewicz
Saint Pelagia of Tarsus in Cilicia (southeastern Asia Minor) lived in the third century, during the reign of Diocletian (284-305), and was the daughter of illustrious pagans. When she heard about Jesus Christ from her Christian friends, she believed in Him and desired to preserve her virginity, dedicating her whole life to the Lord.
Emperor Diocletian’s heir (a boy he adopted), saw the maiden Pelagia, was captivated by her beauty and wanted her to be his wife. The holy virgin told the youth that she was betrothed to Christ the Immortal Bridegroom, and had renounced earthly marriage.
Pelagia’s reply greatly angered the young man, but he decided to leave her in peace for awhile, hoping that she would change her mind. At the same time, Pelagia convinced her mother to let her visit the nurse who had raised her in childhood. She secretly hoped to find Bishop Linus of Tarsus, who had fled to a mountain during a persecution against Christians, and to be baptized by him. She had seen the face of Bishop Linus in a dream, which made a profound impression upon her. The holy bishop told her to be baptized. Saint Pelagia traveled in a chariot to visit her nurse, dressed in rich clothes and accompanied by a whole retinue of servants, as her mother wished.
Along the way Saint Pelagia, by the grace of God, met Bishop Linus. Pelagia immediately recognized the bishop who had appeared to her in the dream. She fell at his feet, requesting Baptism. At the bishop’s prayer a spring of water flowed from the ground.
Bishop Linus made the Sign of the Cross over Saint Pelagia, and during the Mystery of Baptism, angels appeared and covered the chosen one of God with a bright mantle. After giving the pious virgin Holy Communion, Bishop Linus offered a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord with her, and then sent her to continue her journey. She then exchanged her expensive clothing for a simple white garment, and distributed her possessions to the poor. Returning to her servants, Saint Pelagia told them about Christ, and many of them were converted and believed.
She tried to convert her own mother to Christ, but the obdurate woman sent a message to Diocletian’s son that Pelagia was a Christian and did not wish to be his wife. The youth realized that Pelagia was lost to him, and he fell upon his sword in his despair. Pelagia’s mother feared the emperor’s wrath, so she tied her daughter up and led her to Diocletian’s court as a Christian who was also responsible for the death of the heir to the throne. The emperor was captivated by the unusual beauty of the virgin and tried to turn her from her faith in Christ, promising her every earthly blessing if she would become his wife.
The holy virgin refused the emperor’s offer with contempt and said, “You are insane, Emperor, saying such things to me. I will not do your bidding, and I loathe your vile marriage, since I have Christ, the King of Heaven, as my Bridegroom. I do not desire your worldly crowns which last only a short while. The Lord in His heavenly Kingdom has prepared three imperishable crowns for me. The first is for faith, since I have believed in the true God with all my heart; the second is for purity, because I have dedicated my virginity to Him; the third is for martyrdom, since I want to accept every suffering for Him and offer up my soul because of my love for Him.”
Diocletian sentenced Pelagia to be burned in a red-hot bronze bull. Not permitting the executioners to touch her body, the holy martyr signed herself with the Sign of the Cross, and went into the brazen bull and her flesh melted like myrrh, filling the whole city with fragrance. Saint Pelagia’s bones remained unharmed and were removed by the pagans to a place outside the city. Four lions then came out of the wilderness and sat around the bones letting neither bird nor wild beast get at them. The lions protected the relics of the saint until Bishop Linus came to that place. He gathered them up and buried them with honor. Later, a church was built over her holy relics.
The Service to the holy Virgin Martyr Pelagia of Tarsus says that she was “deemed worthy of most strange and divine visions.” She is also commemorated on October 7.
During the reign of Emperor Constantine (306-337), when the persecutions against Christians had stopped, a church was built at Saint Pelagia’s burial place.
The Alfanov Brothers Saints Nikita, Cyril, Nicephorus, Clement, and Isaac lived during the fourteenth century at Novgorod. They led a righteous life and founded the Sokolnitsky monastery. As the chronicles relate, “A wooden church dedicated to Saint Nicholas was built on the Sokol hill and a monastery was founded” in 1389.
The righteous Alfanov (Sokolnitskyie) brothers were kinsmen according to the chronicler James Anphalov [or Alfanov], who fled to the Dvina to avoid pursuit because of his dealings with Moscow.
The righteous ones were subjected to misfortune because they were related to James, and they purified themselves through their innocent suffering. In the Tale of the brothers, a miracle took place at their relics.
Their memory is celebrated on May 4 and June 17. As the result of a fire which destroyed the Sokolnitsky monastery, their holy relics were transferred to the Antoniev monastery on May 4, 1775.
Saint Erasmus zealously served the Lord from his youth. In his mature years he was consecrated as Bishop of Formium, Italy. During the persecution against Christians under the emperors Diocletian (284-305) and Maximian Hercules (284-305), Saint Erasmus left his diocese and went to Mount Libanus, where he hid for seven years. Once, however, an angel appeared to him and said, “Erasmus! No one vanquishes enemies if he is asleep. Go to your own city, and you shall vanquish your enemies.” Heeding the voice of the angel, Saint Erasmus left his seclusion.
The first ones who asked him about his faith were soldiers who met him along the way. Saint Erasmus confessed himself a Christian. They brought him to trial at Antioch before the emperor Diocletian. The saint fearlessly confessed his faith in Christ and denounced the emperor for his impiety.
Saint Erasmus was subjected to fearsome tortures, but remained unbending. After the tortures the saint was bound in iron chains and thrown into prison, where an angel appeared in miraculous form, saying, “Follow after me, I will lead you to Italy. There you shall bring many people to salvation.” Saint Erasmus preached boldly to the people about Christ and raised up the son of an illustrious citizen of Lycia.
After this miracle at Lycia 10,000 men were baptized. The emperor of the Western half of the Roman Empire, Maximian Hercules, gave orders to seize the saint and bring him to trial. Saint Erasmus also confessed his faith before this emperor. They beat him and threatened him with crucifixion if he did not renounce Christ. They forced him to go to a temple of the idol, but along the saint’s route all the idols fell and were destroyed, and from the temple there came fire which fell upon many of the pagans.
After being set free, Saint Erasmus baptized many pagans, and later went to the city of Sirmium, where he was seized and subjected to torture. They seated him in a red-hot oven, but he remained alive and unharmed. This miracle amazed so many people that the emperor, fearing civil unrest, retired into his own chambers. The angel freed Saint Erasmus from his fetters and took him to the city of Formium, i.e. to his own diocese, where the saint baptized many more people. The saint died there in 303. Christians buried the relics of the holy confessor with honor.
Saint Albian was bishop of the city of Aneium in the Aseian district, and suffered for Christ about the year 304 in a persecution against Christians under the emperor Diocletian and his co-ruler Maximian. Saint Albian was ordered to offer sacrifice to idols under the threat of death, but he confessed his faith in Christ and refused to serve idols. They tortured him with red-hot irons and beat him mercilessly, but he remained unyielding.
They tortured his disciple with him, and he also remained faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ. Both holy martyrs were sentenced to death and thrown into a red-hot oven, in which they died, receiving the crowns of martyrdom.
Saint Silvanus came from the vicinity of the city of Gaza, and was a soldier. Desiring to serve the heavenly King, he became a priest, and was consecrated Bishop of Gaza. Saint Silvanus converted many pagans to Christ. During the persecution against Christians under the emperor Diocletian he was taken for trial to the city of Caesarea. He underwent torture and bravely endured it, and was then sentenced to harsh labor in the copper mines.
The holy bishop was exhausted by this work, but remained cheerful of spirit. He incessantly preached Christ to all those around him. This angered the pagans, who beheaded him.
Forty holy martyrs, who believed in Christ after hearing the words of the bishop, were also martyred with him. Their death followed in the year 311.
Saint Nicephorus was the teacher of Saint Gregory Palamas (November 14). He grew up as a Roman Catholic, but he journeyed to the Byzantine Empire and became Orthodox. Saint Nicephorus lived as an ascetic on Mount Athos, and died before the year 1300. His treatise “On Watchfulness and the Guarding of the Heart” is found in the fourth volume of the English PHILOKALIA.
The Staro Rus (Old Russian) Icon of the Mother of God was so named because for a long time it was in Staro Rus, where it had been brought by the Greeks from Olviopolis during the very first period of Christianity in Russia. The icon was in Staro Rus until the seventeenth century. In 1655 during a plague it was revealed to a certain inhabitant of the city of Tikhvin that the pestilence would cease if the wonderworking Staro Rus Icon were transferred there, and the Tikhvin Icon sent to Staro Rus.
After the transfer of the icons the plague ceased, but the people of Tikhvin did not return the icon and only in the eighteenth century did they give permission to make a copy of the Staro Rus Icon, which on May 4, 1768 was sent to Stara Russa. A feast was established in honor of this event. On September 17, 1888 the original was also returned to Staro Rus and a second Feast day established.
Saint Monica, the mother of Saint Augustine of Hippo (June 15), was born in 322 in Tagaste, North Africa. Her parents were Christians, but little is known of her early life. Most of our information about her comes from Book IX of her son’s Confessions.
Saint Monica was married to a pagan official named Patritius, who had a short temper and lived an immoral life. At first, her mother-in-law did not like her, but Monica won her over by her gentle disposition. Unlike many women of that time, she was never beaten by her husband. She said that Patritius never raised his hand against her because she always held her tongue, setting a guard over her mouth in his presence. (Ps. 38/39:1).
Saint Monica and Patritius had three children: Saint Augustine, Navigius and Perpetua. It was a source of great sorrow to her that Patritius would not permit them to be baptized. She worried about Augustine, who lived with a young woman in Carthage and had an illegitimate son with her. Her constant prayers and tears for her son had the effect of converting her husband to Christ before his death. Augustine, however, continued on the path that led away from Christ.
While in Carthage, Augustine fell under the influence of the heretical Manichean sect. His mother was horrified and tried to turn him away from his error. She had a dream in which she was told to be patient and gentle with her son. Augustine, however, paid little attention to her arguments, and remained in his delusion for nine years. Saint Monica must have felt disheartened and disappointed, but she never gave up on him. She even tried to enlist the help of a bishop who had once been a Manichean himself, but he would not dispute with Augustine. He said he couldn’t reason with the young man, because he was still attracted by the novelty of the heresy. He did reassure her saying, “Go on your way, and God bless you, for it is not possible that the son of these tears should be lost.”
Saint Monica went to Rome with Augustine when he lectured there in 383. Later, he received an appointment to Milan, where he met Saint Ambrose (December 7) and was greatly impressed by his preaching. Bishop Ambrose came to have a high regard for Saint Monica, and often congratulated Augustine on having such a virtuous mother.
One day Augustine was reading the New Testament in a garden, and came to Romans 13:12-14. There and then Augustine decided to “cast off the works of darkness,” and to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” He was baptized on the eve of Pascha in 387.
After his baptism, Augustine and his mother planned to return to Africa. They stopped to rest in Ostia, where Saint Monica fell asleep in the Lord at the age of fifty-six. She was buried at Ostia, and her holy relics were transferred to the crypt of a church in the sixth century. Nine centuries later, Saint Monica’s relics were translated to Rome.
In the West, Saint Monica is considered the patron saint of wives and mothers whose husbands or sons have gone astray.