Lives of all saints commemorated on February 29

Saturday of Cheesefare Commemoration of all our God-bearing Fathers and Mothers who shone forth in asceticism

On this day, we commemorate all the righteous and God-bearing Fathers and Mothers, both known and unknown, who shone forth in asceticism. With these two weeks of Meatfare and Cheesefare, the Church gradually eases us into the full fasting which begins on Monday.

The holy acetics are virtuous men and women who contended against the devil and their own passions. By examining their lives and their struggles against the Enemy, we take courage from the victory they have achieved, and are inspired to imitate their God-pleasing conduct. They also teach us that fasting is not merely abstinence from food, but involves refraining from inappropriate speech and unseemly actions.

Since these holy ascetics share the same human nature that we have, their example is an encouragement to us as we embark on our own spiritual struggles. Their lives are a model for us to follow as we seek to acquire and practice the various virtues and to turn away from everything evil. If we undertake these same struggles of prayer, fasting, and good works, we shall receive from God the same reward they did.

Most of the holy ascetics commemorated today have their own separate Feast Day during the year, while some are remembered only on this day.

Venerable John Cassian the Roman

Saint John Cassian the Roman was born around 360, probably in Lesser Scythia (in Dacia Pontica). His pious Christian parents gave him an excellent classical education, and also instructed him in the Holy Scriptures and in the spiritual life.

Saint John entered a monastery in the diocese of Tomis, where his friend and relative Saint Germanus labored as an ascetic. In 380, desiring to venerate the Holy Places, Saint John went to Jerusalem with his sister and his friend Saint Germanus. The two monks stayed at a Bethlehem monastery, not far from where the Savior was born.

After five years at the monastery, Saints John and Germanus traveled through the Thebaid and the desert monasteries of Sketis for seven years, drawing upon the spiritual experience of countless ascetics. The Egyptian monks taught them many useful things about spiritual struggles, prayer, and humility. Like honeybees they journeyed from place to place, gathering the sweet nectar of spiritual wisdom. The notes Saint John made formed the basis of his book called CONFERENCES WITH THE FATHERS in twenty-four chapters.

Returning to Bethlehem for a brief time, the spiritual brothers lived for three years in complete solitude. Then they went back to Egypt and lived there until 399. Because of the disturbances caused by Archbishop Theophilus of Alexandria to the monasteries along the Nile, they decided to go to Constantinople, after hearing of the virtue and holiness of Saint John Chrysostom. The great hierarch ordained Saint John Cassian as a deacon and accepted him as a disciple. John and Germanus remained with Saint John Chrysostom for five years, learning many profitable things from him.

When Chrysostom was exiled from Constantinople in 404, Saints John Cassian and Germanus went to Rome to plead his case before Innocent I. Cassian was ordained to the holy priesthood in Rome, or perhaps later in Gaul. After Chrysostom’s death in 407, Saint John Cassian went to Massilia [Marseilles] in Gaul (now France). There he established two cenobitic monasteries in 415, one for men and another for women, based on the model of Eastern monasticism.

At the request of Bishop Castor of Aptia Julia (in southern Gaul), Cassian wrote THE INSTITUTES OF CENOBITIC LIFE (De Institutis Coenobiorum) in twelve books, describing the life of the Palestinian and Egyptian monks. Written between 417-419, the volume included four books describing the clothing of the monks of Palestine and Egypt, their schedule of prayer and services, and how new monks were received into the monasteries.The last eight books were devoted to the eight deadly sins and how to overcome them. Through his writings, Saint John Cassian provided Christians of the West with examples of cenobitic monasteries, and acquainted them with the asceticism of the Orthodox East.

Cassian speaks as a spiritual guide about the purpose of life, about attaining discernment, about renunciation of the world, about the passions of the flesh and spirit, about the hardships faced by the righteous, and about prayer.

Saint John Cassian also wrote CONFERENCES WITH THE FATHERS (Collationes Patrum) in twenty-four books in the form of conversations about the perfection of love, about purity, about God’s help, about understanding Scripture, about the gifts of God, about friendship, about the use of language, about the four levels of monasticism, about the solitary life and cenobitic life, about repentance, about fasting, about nightly meditations, and about spiritual mortification. This last has the explanatory title “I do what I do not want to do.”

Books 1-10 of the CONFERENCES describe Saint John’s conversations with the Fathers of Sketis between 393-399. Books 11-17 relate conversations with the Fathers of Panephysis, and the last seven books are devoted to conversations with monks from the region of Diolkos.

In 431 Saint John Cassian wrote his final work, ON THE INCARNATION OF THE LORD, AGAINST NESTORIUS (De Incarnationem Domini Contra Nestorium). In seven books he opposed the heresy, citing many Eastern and Western teachers to support his arguments.

In his works, Saint John Cassian was grounded in the spiritual experience of the ascetics, and criticized the abstract reasoning of Saint Augustine (June 15). Saint John said that “grace is defended less adequately by pompous words and loquacious contention, dialectic syllogisms and the eloquence of Cicero (i.e. Augustine), than by the example of the Egyptian ascetics.” In the words of Saint John of the Ladder (March 30), “great Cassian reasons loftily and excellently.” His writings are also praised in the Rule of Saint Benedict.

Saint John Cassian lived in the West for many years, but his spiritual homeland was the Orthodox East. He fell asleep in the Lord in the year 435. His holy relics rest in an underground chapel in the Monastery of Saint Victor in Marseilles. His head and right hand are in the main church.

Venerable John-Barsanuphius, Bishop of Damascus

Saint John, called Barsanuphius, was a native of Palestine. He was baptized when he was eighteen years old, and later became a monk. Because of his ascetic life, Saint John was consecrated Archbishop of Damascus. Because of his love for the solitary life, Saint John gave up his position as hierarch and secretly withdrew to Alexandria, calling himself Barsanuphius. Then he went into the Nitrian desert, arrived at a monastery, and begged the igumen to accept him into the monastery to serve the Elders. He conscientiously fulfilled this obedience by day, and spent his nights in prayer.

Theodore of Nitria saw the monk, and knew that he was a bishop. Saint John concealed himself again and withdrew into Egypt, where he lived in asceticism until the end of his days.

Martyr Theokteristus

The Holy Martyr Theokteristus, Igumen of the Pelekete monastery, suffered for the holy icons under the impious emperor Constantine Copronymos (741-775). Also subjected to tortures were Saint Stephen the New (November 28), and other pious monks. Saint Theokteristus was burned with boiling tar.

The holy martyr was a spiritual writer, and composed a Canon to the Mother of God “Sustainer in Many Misfortunes.”

Saint Leo of Cappadocia

Saint Leo of Cappadocia fulfilled the commandment to love his neighbor by suggesting to the Saracens, who had captured three sickly monks, that he take the place of these infirm captives with himself, since he was healthy and able to work.

While journeying in the desert, Saint Leo weakened and was not able to go any farther. He was beheaded with the sword, thereby laying down his life for his neighbor.

Saint Meletius, Archbishop of Kharkov and Akhtyr

Saint Meletius, Archbishop of Kharkov and Akhtyr (in the world Michael Ivanovich Leontovich), was born November 6, 1784 in the village of Stara Stanzhara in the Poltava district.

In 1808 Michael Leontovich successfully completed the Ekaterinoslav Seminary. As the best student, he was sent by Archbishop Platon of Ekaterinoslav to Peterburg, to the Saint Alexander Nevsky Spiritual Academy [in Russia, “spiritual academy” is higher level of religious training beyond seminary]. Finishing the spiritual academy in 1814 with the degree of “magister” [“teacher”], he was appointed adjunct-professor of Greek.

On March 11, 1817 Michael Leontovich was appointed to the office of secretary of the Academy Building committee.

On July 30, 1817 they transferred him to the Kiev Seminary, to serve as inspector and professor of Church History and Greek. When the Kiev Spiritual Academy opened on September 28, 1819, Michael Leontovich became its first inspector.

On February 11, 1820, on the eve of the Feast of Saint Meletius of Antioch, in the cathedral church of the Kiev-Bratsk monastery, he was tonsured into monasticism with the name Meletius. The tonsure was done by Metropolitan Eugene (Bolkhovitnikov) of Kiev. On February 22, 1820 Saint Meletius was ordained deacon by Metropolitan Eugene, and to the priesthood on February 25.

On August 9, 1821 Hieromonk Meletius was appointed rector of the Mogilev Seminary and head of the Kutein Orshansk monastery with the rank of archimandrite. In August 1823 he was made rector of the Pskov Seminary, and on January 24, 1824 Archimandrite Meletius was appointed rector of the Kiev Spiritual Academy.

In October 1826 the Holy Synod decided to appoint Archimandrite Meletius as Bishop of Chigirinsk, a vicar of the Kiev diocese and head of the Zlatoverkh Michaelov monastery. He was elected as bishop on October 19, 1826, and was consecrated on October 21, 1826 at Kiev’s cathedral of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) .

With a fatherly love the saint looked after young foster-children, raising them in a spirit of devotion to the Church of Christ. The saint particularly cared for the needy, widows and orphans. He often visited the imprisoned and provided them the consolation of religious services in the prison churches. The saint also was also concerned for the spiritual nourishment of the brethren of the Michaelov monastery. With edifying discourses and by personal example he inspired in the monks a spirit of true asceticism. Saint Meletius said, “Humility is the guarding sword, with which we pass over earth and Hades to reach Heaven.”

In April 1828 Saint Meletius was appointed to the Perm cathedral.

Strict with himself, the saint was also strict towards others. To prepare chosen candidates for ordination, Saint Meletius himself wrote the so-called “Ordinand’s Catechism” for them. In August 1831 Saint Meletius was transferred to the See of Irkutsk, with the rank of archbishop.

The saint devoted great attention to the enlightenment of the lesser nations of Russia with the light of the Gospel teaching. He founded churches in the north of Kamchatka, in the northeast parts of the Irkutsk diocese and along the Aldan River, on the tract from Yakutsk to Okhotsk.

He often reviewed his extensive diocese, going to the shores of the Okhotsk and Arctic Seas, to the borders of North America, where the renowned Apostle of Siberia, the priest John Veniaminov, later known as Saint Innocent the Apostle to America (October 6 and March 31) then labored. Journeying through Siberia and along the shores of the Pacific Ocean, Saint Meletius frequently interacted with the native peoples who professed Lamaism. The saint urged them to abandon their errors and he explained the Gospel truths to these pagan peoples: the Tungus, the Buryats, the Kamchadali, and also the inhabitants of the Kurile and Aleutian Islands.

Because of his untiring labors, the saint’s health began to deteriorate, and they transferred him in 1835 to the Slobodsk-Ukrainsk cathedra (afterwards the cathedra of Kharkov and Akhtyr).

Here Saint Meletius devoted his attention to the institutions of spiritual learning, and concerned himself with the life and education of the clergy.

He raised questions about restoring those monasteries and spiritual schools which Empress Catherine II had closed. The saint was also concerned with combating schismatics.

On July 2, 1839 Saint Meletius led the celebrations in the city of Akhtyr for the tenth anniversary of the appearance of the wonderworking Akhtyr Icon of the Mother of God (July 2).

The blessed repose of the saint occurred on the night of February 29, 1840. After Communion, with the words “Now lettest Thou Thy Servant depart in peace,” the saint signed himself with the Sign of the Cross and, after asking forgiveness of everyone, he departed to the Lord.

On March 4, 1840 Saint Meletius was consigned to the earth by the Kursk bishop Heliodorus in a crypt beneath the Church of the Cross at the Protection monastery.

From the first days after his death, believing people firmly trusted in the intercession of Saint Meletius before God, and they received help: healing in sicknesses, comfort in sorrows and deliverance from difficult circumstances. Believers in Kharkov put special trust in Saint Meletius during the terrible days of the “Great War for the Fatherland” (World War II). The saint predicted the impending deliverance of the city from the enemy.

In 1948, with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Alexis, the coffin with the relics of Saint Meletius was transferred to the Annunciation cathedral church, where they remain to the present day, providing spiritual recourse and prayerful comfort for believers.

Saint Germanus of Dacia Pontica (Dobrogea)

Saint Germanus the Daco-Roman was born in the mid-fourth century, probably on the borders of Cassian and the Caves in the diocese of Tomis (in what is now Romania), and was related to Saint John Cassian (February 29). Saint Germanus, who was older than Saint John, was tonsured at one of the local monasteries when he was still a young man. The holy bishop Saint Theotimus I (April 20) may have been his Spiritual Father.

In turn, Saint Germanus became the Spiritual Father, friend, and teacher of Saint John Cassian, instructing him in monastic perfection. They both lived at one of the monasteries of Dacia Pontica for a short time, and then worked together in Bethlehem from 380-385. Later, they traveled to Egypt and visited some of its cenobitic monasteries. They also visited the hermits of Nitria and Mount Sinai, seeking to benefit from their holy example and wise counsel.

Sts Germanus and John went to Constantinople in 399 in order to be near Saint John Chrysostom (November 13), and around this time Germanus was deemed worthy of ordination to the holy priesthood. When Chrysostom was deposed and exiled in 404, the two saints journeyed to Rome in order to plead his case before Pope Innocent I.

Saint Germanus completed the course of his life in the early fifth century, perhaps at the monastery estabished by Saint John Cassian at Marseilles, or in one of the monasteries of Dacia Pontica.

The inscription on the saint’s scroll is an abbreviated quotation from Psalm 17/18:1. It reads: The Lord is my strength and deliverer.

Devpeteruv Icon of Theotokos

This Icon appeared on February 29, 1392. One of the oldest shrines of the Devpeteruv (Девпетерувская) Icon of the Mother of God is now located in the Nikolaev church of the village of Batyushkova, or Batatkova, Dmitrovsky district of Moscow Province. In this image, the child Jesus is shown resting on the Virgin’s right shoulder; His left hand is on His Mother’s left shoulder, and her right hand is on His right shoulder.

In Tambov's Transfiguration Cathedral, above the tomb of St. Pitirim (July 28), there is another list of the miracles of the Devpeteruv Icon of the Mother of God. This image once belonged to St. Pitirim, and before it, he offered his fervent prayers to the Lord God. The Icon became especially famous in 1833 after a miracle took place.

A certain woman, whose husband was falsely accused of a crime and sent to prison, once saw an Elder whom she did not know in a dream. This Elder ordered her to search the cathedral for the Icon from St. Pitirim's cell, and to have a Moleben served before it. He also showed her the Icon itself. The woman found the Saint's Icon and asked for a Moleben to be served before it. Shortly afterward, her husband was acquitted and released from prison.