The Sunday that falls between December 11-17 is known as the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers. These are the ancestors of Christ according to the flesh, who lived before the Law and under the Law, especially the Patriarch Abraham, to whom God said, “In thy seed shall all of the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3, 22:18).
The Righteous Aaron was the son of Amram and Jochebed, and the elder brother of the Prophet Moses the God-seer, and also of Miriam. He was a direct descendent of Levi by both parents. God called him “the Levite” in Exodus 4:14, when He appointed Aaron to be the spokesman for Moses, who was “slow of speech,” before the people. Later, he would also speak on behalf of Moses before Pharaoh in Egypt (Ex. 4:30; 7:2). Aaron was married to Elisheba, the daughter of the Prince of Judah (Ex. 6:23), who bore him four sons.
Moses was eighty years old and Aaron was eighty-three when they spoke to Pharaoh and asked that the Hebrews be released from their slavery. The Lord told Moses that Pharaoh would ask them for a miracle, and that Aaron should throw down his rod before him, and it would become a serpent (Ex. 7:9). When Pharaoh would not allow the Hebrews to leave Egypt, God told Moses to have Aaron stretch forth his rod over the Nile River, and it would turn to blood.
Following a succession of plagues, Pharaoh relented and let the people go, then Moses led them on their long journey to the Promised Land. In Chapter 17 of Exodus, the Hebrews fought Amalek in a battle at Rephidim. Moses stood atop a hill with the rod of God in his hand. As long as he raised his hand, the Hebrews prevailed, but when he became tired and lowered it, Amalek prevailed. Aaron and Hur sat Moses on a rock and held up his hands, one on each side. This was a prefiguration of the suffering of Christ, because the arms of Moses formed a cross. In the Greek Septuagint, the names Aaron and Hur begin with the letters Alpha and Omega, another reference to Christ (Revelation 1:8).
Aaron and his sons were anointed and sanctified to serve God as priests (Exodus chapter 29). In chapter 32, Aaron fell into temptation when Moses went up on Mount Sinai to receive the Commandments. Since Moses was taking a long time, the people grew restless and asked Aaron to make them a golden idol in the form of a calf so that they could offer sacrifices. He gave into them, and Moses was angry when he returned and saw them dancing and singing before the calf. He threw down the tablets on which God had written the Ten Commandments, and then he burned the golden calf and ground it to powder. He scattered the powder on the water, and he made the people drink it. When Moses asked those who were on the Lord’s side to gather around him, the Levites came to him. He ordered them to take their swords and slay their sons, companions, and neighbors. About three thousand people were killed that day.
Later, Aaron and Miriam criticized Moses for marrying a Cushite woman (Num. 12:1). God was angry with them, so He punished Miriam with leprosy. She was healed by God seven days after Moses interceded for her.
In chapter 17 of Numbers, the people murmured against Moses and Aaron, so God commanded that the leaders of the twelve tribes should have their names inscribed on their rods and placed in the tent of testimony. One would be chosen to make the people cease their grumbling against Moses and his brother. Aaron’s rod bloomed miraculously in the tent of the testimony, to show that he had been chosen for this purpose.
Aaron reposed atop Mount Hor when he was one hundred and twenty-three years old. One of his descendants was St. Elizabeth, the mother of St. John the Baptist (Luke 1:5).
The youngest son of Jacob, he was called Benoni and then Benjamin (Genesis 35:16-18). Before his death Jacob blessed him in a seemingly backhanded way, saying that “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf, devouring his prey in the morning, and dividing the spoil in the evening” (Genesis 49:27). Commentators say this is not a reference to Benjamin himself, but to the warlike nature of the tribe of Benjamin.
Information about the holy Prophetess and Judge Deborah may be found in the Book of Judges 4:5-14, and also chapter 5.
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Information about the Righteous Judith may be found in the Old Testament book bearing her name.
Saint Miriam, like her brothers Moses and Aaron, was descended from the tribe of Levi.
When Moses was an infant, the Hebrew midwives were ordered to kill any male child when they assisted at childbirths, but they refused to obey. Moses was hidden by his mother for three months, and then, when she could no longer do this, he was placed into a basket of reeds and set upon the waters of the Nile. Miriam watched in secret to see what would happen to him. When Pharaoh’s daughter found him, Miriam emerged from her place of concealment and offered to find a wet nurse from among the Hebrew women for the baby. Miriam went to get her mother, who raised her child until he was grown, and then returned him to Pharoah’s daughter (Exodus 2:10).
In the Torah, she is called “Miriam the Prophetess” (Exodus 15:20), while the Prophet Michah (6:4) has God say that He sent Moses, and Aaron, and Miriam before the Hebrews to lead them out of Egypt.
In Chapter 12 of the book of Numbers, Miriam and Aaron apparently criticize Moses for being married to a foreign woman of Cush (or an Ethiopian). This, however, was merely a pretext for their resentment. Actually, they were disturbed by Moses’ position as the sole mediator between God and the people. Miriam was a prophetess, after all. Miriam and Aaron questioned Moses, “Has the Lord spoken only to Moses? Has He not also spoken to us?” God then tells them that He speaks face to face with Moses, but only in visions to Miriam and Aaron while they are asleep. Then, for daring to speak against Moses, Miriam is punished with leprosy. Aaron pleads with Moses not to hold their sin against them, since they had acted out of ignorance. Even so, Miriam was set apart outside the camp for seven days, and then she was healed and allowed to come in.
In one of the stichera on the Praises for the Sunday before the Nativity, Sarah, Rebecca, Anna, and Miriam, “the glory of women,” are said to “exchange glad tidings.”
The Prophet Nathan was an advisor to King David and King Solomon. He is mentioned in the Prayer of Absolution in the Mystery of Confession: “It was God Who pardoned David through the Prophet Nathan when he had confessed his sin....” David had committed adultery with Uriah's wife Bathsheba, and had him killed. Then he took Bathsheba as his wife. David confessed his sin to Nathan (2 Samuel 12:13) and received pardon.
The Old Testament book of Nehemiah tells of how he returned from the Captivity in Babylon in the twentieth year of the Persian King Artaxerxes (445/444 B.C.) to rebuild Jerusalem and to govern the province. He and Ezra purified the Jewish people by making known the Law of Moses, and forcing the men to divorce their pagan wives.
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Rebecca was the wife of the Old Testament Patriarch Isaac, and the mother of Jacob and Esau. She is mentioned in Genesis 22:23; Chapters 24-28; and Chapter 49:31. Saint Paul also mentions her (Romans 9:10).
Sarah was the wife of the Old Testament Patriarch Abraham and the mother of Isaac. At first she was called Sarai, and her name was changed to Sarah (Genesis 17:15-16). The three men who visited Abraham at the oak of Mamre told her that she would conceive and have a son (Genesis 18:10). She did not believe them at first, since she and her husband were old, but they insisted that she would bear a son in the spring. Their prediction was fulfilled, and God did as He had promised (Genesis 21:1-3). Saint Andrew Rublev depicts the three men as angels in his most famous icon. Sarah is praised in the New Testament for her faith (Hebrews 11:11) and also for her obedience (I Peter 3:6).
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The 64-verse story of Susanna is found in the Septuagint Greek as a Preamble to the Book of Daniel. The Latin Vulgate, however, places the story of Susanna at the end of the Book of Daniel, which constitutes the book's thirteenth chapter.
Information about the Righteous Ruth, the wife of Boaz, may be found in the Old Testament book bearing her name.
Saint Mary is the mother of Saint Anna, and the grandmother of the Theotokos.
Hieromartyr Eleutherius, his mother Evanthia and Caribus the Eparch: Saint Eleutherius, the son of an illustrious Roman citizen, was raised in Christian piety by his mother. His virtue was such that at the age twenty, he had been elevated to bishop of Illyria. In the reign of the emperor Hadrian, Saint Eleutherius was tortured for his bold preaching about Christ, then was beheaded at Rome with his mother Evanthia. The Eparch Caribus, who had tortured Saint Eleutherius, also came to believe in Christ and was executed.
Saint Paul of Latros was a native of the city of Aelen in Pergamum. Early bereft of his father, he was educated at the monastery of Saint Stephen in Phrygia. After the death of his mother, he devoted himself completely to monastic deeds at a monastery on Mount Latra, near Miletos.
Seeking even loftier accomplishments, he secluded himself in a cave. For his ascetic deeds he gained the gifts of clairvoyance and wonderworking. The emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitos (912-959) often wrote to him, asking his prayers and counsel. Saint Paul twice withdrew to the island of Samos, where he established a monastery and restored three monasteries ravaged by the Hagarenes (Arabs). Foretelling his end, the monk reposed in the year 955.
Saint Stephen the Confessor, Archbishop of Surrentium (Sourozh), was a native of Cappadocia and was educated at Constantinople. After receiving the monastic tonsure, he withdrew into the wilderness, where he lived for thirty years in ascetic deeds.
Patriarch Germanus of Constantinople (May 12) heard of Stephen’s humility and virtuous life, and wished to meet him. He was so impressed with Stephen that he consecrated him bishop of the city of Surrentium (presently the city of Sudak in the Crimea). Within five years, Saint Stephen’s ministry was so fruitful that no heretics or unbaptized pagans remained in Surrentium or its environs.
Saint Stephen opposed the iconoclasm of the emperor Leo III the Isaurian (716-741). Since he refused to obey the orders of the emperor and the dishonorable Patriarch Anastasius to remove the holy icons from the churches, he was brought to Constantinople. There he was thrown into prison and tortured. He was released after the death of the emperor. Already quite advanced in years, he returned to his flock in Surrentium, where he died.
There is an account of how the Russian prince Bravlin accepted Baptism at the beginning of the ninth century during a campaign into the Crimea, influenced by miracles at the saint’s crypt.
Saint Tryphon of Pechenga and Kola, in the world Metrophanes, was born in the Novgorod governia into a priestly family. The pious parents raised their son in the fear of God. From his early years Tryphon had resolved to devote his life to apostolic deeds and to go to the pagan Laplanders and proclaim the Gospel of Christ. He knew of them only through the accounts of fish vendors.
Once, while praying in the forest he had heard a voice, “Tryphon, this is not your place. An empty and thirsty land awaits you.” Forsaking his parental home, the saint went out onto the Kola Peninsula and halted at the banks of the Pechenga River, where the Lapps lived. There he began to carry on trade with them. The saint first acquainted himself with the pagan beliefs of these people and studied their language, and then began to preach the Christian Faith to them. The Lapps greeted the words of the saint with great mistrust. The holy preacher suffered much hardship, enduring hostility and even beatings. But gradually, through his wise and kindly words and meekness, many were converted to Christ.
With the blessing of Archbishop Macarius of Novogord, Saint Tryphon and Saint Theodoretos built a church for the newly-converted. In 1532 he founded the Pechenga-Trinity monastery for those eager for the monastic life, “on the cold sea, on the frontier of Murmansk.”
Tsar Ivan the Terrible helped him and richly endowed the monastery. The Enlightener of the Lapps died in old age in 1583, having lived at the Pechenga almost 60 years. Local veneration of Saint Tryphon began soon after his death.
In 1589, the Swedes destroyed the Pechenga monastery. Later, by order of Tsar Theodore, the monastery was transferred to the Kola Peninsula. On the site of the restored monastery a church was built and named for Saint Tryphon. Over the saint’s grave a church was constructed in honor of the Meeting of the Lord. Saint Tryphon has often come to the aid of perishing seamen, who call upon his name with faith.
Saint Jonah of Pechenga and Kola was, as tradition tells us, a priest in the city of Kola. After the death of his daughter and wife he went off to the Pechenga-Trinity monastery near Kola, and became a disciple of its founder, Saint Tryphon. After the death of his teacher, he settled in 1583 at the site of what was to become his grave in the neighboring Dormition wilderness, where he was killed by the Swedes in the year 1590.
The Holy Martyr Eleutherius Cubicularius was an illustrious and rich chamberlain [“cubicularius”] at the Byzantine court. With all his courtly privileges, Eleutherius was not beguiled by worldly possessions and honors. Instead, he thought of imperishable and eternal things. Having accepted holy Baptism, he began daily to glorify God with psalmody and to adorn his life with virtuous deeds.
But one of his servants through diabolic promptings, informed against his master to the [then still pagan] emperor. The emperor tried to turn Eleutherius from his faith in Christ, but after the unsuccessful attempts the emperor gave orders to behead him, and to throw his body to be eaten by dogs and vultures. A certain Christian priest took up the saint’s body and buried it.
There is a second commemoration of the martyr on August 4.
Saint Pardus the Hermit, a Roman, was involved in his youth with the teamster’s craft. Once, when he traveled to Jericho, a boy accidentally fell under the legs of his camels. The camels trampled the boy to death. Shaken by this occurrence, Pardus became a monk and withdrew to Mount Arion.
Thinking himself as a murderer, and deserving of death, Saint Pardus entered the den of a lion. He poked the wild beast and prodded it with a spear so that the lion would tear him apart, but the creature would not touch the hermit. Saint Pardus then took off his clothes and lay down upon the path that the lion would take for water. But even here, the lion merely leaped over the hermit. And the Elder then understood that he had been forgiven by the Lord. Returning to his mountain, Saint Pardus dwelt there in fasting and prayer until the end of his days. He died in the sixth century.
The holy New Martyr Archbishop Hilarion (Vladimir Alexievich Troitsky in the world), an outstanding theologian, an eloquent preacher, and a fearless defender of Christ’s holy Church, was born around 1885.
Vladika Hilarion wrote many books and articles on various topics, including “The Unity of the Church.” His Master’s thesis, “An Outline of the History of the Church’s Dogma,” was over five hundred pages long, and was a well-documented analysis of the subject.
During the Council of 1917 he delivered a brilliant address calling for the restoration of the Moscow Patriarchate, which had been dissolved by Tsar Peter I in the eighteenth century. When Saint Tikhon (April 7) was chosen as Patriarch, Saint Hilarion became his fervent supporter.
Saint Hilarion was consecrated as bishop on May 20, 1920, and so the great luminary was placed upon the lampstand (Luke 11:33). From that time, he was to know less than two years of freedom. He spent only six months working with Patriarch Tikhon.
Vladika was arrested and exiled in Archangelsk for a year, then he spent six years (1923-1929) in a labor camp seven versts from Solovki. There at the Filomonov Wharf he and at least two other bishops were employed in catching fish and mending nets. Paraphrasing the hymns of Pentecost, Archbishop Hilarion remarked, “Formerly, the fishermen became theologians. Now the theologians have become fishermen.”
Archbishop Hilarion was one of the most popular inmates of the labor camp. He is remembered as tall, robust, and with brownish hair. Personal possessions meant nothing to him, so he always gave his things away to anyone who asked for them. He never showed annoyance when people disturbed him or insulted him, but remained cheerful.
In the summer of 1925, Vladika was taken from the camp and placed in the Yaroslav prison. There he was treated more leniently, and received certain privileges. For example, he was allowed to receive religious books, and he had pleasant conversations with the warden in his office. Saint Hilarion regarded his time at the Yaroslav Isolated Detention Center as the best part of his imprisonment. The following spring he was back at Solovki.
In 1929 the Communists decided to exile Archbishop Hilarion to Alma-Atu in central Asia. During his trip southward from the far north, Saint Hilarion was robbed and endured many privations. When he arrived in Petrograd, he was ill with typhus, infested with parasites and dressed in rags. When informed that he would have to be shaved, he replied, “You may now do with me whatever you wish.” He wrote from the prison hospital, “My fate will be decided on Saturday, December 15. I doubt I will survive.”
Saint Hilarion died at the age of forty-four in the hospital of a Petrograd prison on December 15, 1929. His body was placed in a coffin hastily made from some boards, and then was released to his family. The once tall and robust Archbishop Hilarion had been transformed by his sufferings into a pitiful white-haired old man. One female relative fainted when she saw the body.
Metropolitan Seraphim (Chichagov) provided a set of white vestments for the late Archbishop. He was also placed in a better coffin.
Metropolitan Seraphim presided at the funeral of Saint Hilarion, assisted by six bishops and several priests. The saint was buried at Novodevichy Monastery.
Saint Nectarius of Bitel was born in the small town of Bitel (or Butili) in Bulgaria. In the world he was named Nicholas. Before a Turkish invasion his mother had a vision: the Most Holy Virgin Herself appeared and told her to flee and go into hiding with her husband and children. Nicholas’s father, having taken the boy with him, withdrew to a monastery dedicated to the Holy Unmercenaries (Sts Cosmas and Damian), not far from Bitel, where he became a monk with the name Pachomius.
Nicholas, having reached adolescence, went on to Athos. The clairvoyant Elder Philotheus accepted him and tonsured him into the angelic schema with the name Nectarius. The monk suffered for a long time from the envy and spite of one of the novices, but he displayed complete humility. He was distinguished for his charity. Any money he obtained from his handicraft was distributed to the poor. Saint Nectarius died in the year 1500.