Afterfeast of the Entry of the Most Holy Mother of God into the Temple

According to Holy Tradition, the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple took place in the following manner. The parents of the Virgin Mary, Saints Joachim and Anna, praying for an end to their childlessness, vowed that if a child were born to them, they would dedicate it to the service of God.

When the Most Holy Virgin reached the age of three, the holy parents decided to fulfill their vow. They gathered together their relatives and acquaintances, and dressed the All-Pure Virgin in Her finest clothes. Singing sacred songs and with lighted candles in their hands, virgins escorted Her to the Temple (Ps. 44/45:14-15). There the High Priest and several priests met the handmaiden of God. In the Temple, fifteen high steps led to the sanctuary, which only the priests and High Priest could enter. (Because they recited a Psalm on each step, Psalms 119/120-133/134 are called “Psalms of Ascent.”) The child Mary, so it seemed, could not make it up this stairway. But just as they placed Her on the first step, strengthened by the power of God, She quickly went up the remaining steps and ascended to the highest one. Then the High Priest, through inspiration from above, led the Most Holy Virgin into the Holy of Holies, where only the High Priest entered once a year to offer a purifying sacrifice of blood. Therefore, all those present in the Temple were astonished at this most unusual occurrence.

After entrusting their child to the Heavenly Father, Joachim and Anna returned home. The All-Holy Virgin remained in the quarters for virgins near the Temple. According to the testimony of Holy Scripture (Exodus 38; 1 Kings 1: 28; Luke 2: 37), and also the historian Josephus Flavius, there were many living quarters around the Temple, in which those who were dedicated to the service of God dwelt.

The earthly life of the Most Holy Theotokos from Her infancy until She was taken up to Heaven is shrouded in deep mystery. Her life at the Jerusalem Temple was also a secret. “If anyone were to ask me,” said Saint Jerome, “how the Most Holy Virgin spent the time of Her youth, I would answer that that is known to God Himself and the Archangel Gabriel, Her constant guardian.”

But there are accounts in Church Tradition, that during the All-Pure Virgin’s stay at the Temple, She grew up in a community of pious virgins, diligently read the Holy Scripture, occupied Herself with handicrafts, prayed constantly, and grew in love for God. From ancient times, the Church has celebrated the Feast of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple. Indications that the Feast was observed in the first centuries of Christianity are found in the traditions of Palestinian Christians, which say that the holy Empress Helen (May 21) built a church in honor of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa, in the fourth century, also mentions this Feast. In the eighth century Saints Germanus and Tarasius, Patriarchs of Constantinople, delivered sermons on the Feast of the Entry.

The Feast of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple foretells God’s blessing for the human race, the preaching of salvation, the promise of the coming of Christ.




by Saint Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica

If a tree is known by its fruit, and a good tree bears good fruit (Mt. 7:17; Luke 6:44), then is not the Mother of Goodness Itself, She who bore the Eternal Beauty, incomparably more excellent than every good, whether in this world or the world above? Therefore, the coeternal and identical Image of goodness, Preeternal, transcending all being, He Who is the preexisting and good Word of the Father, moved by His unutterable love for mankind and compassion for us, put on our image, that He might reclaim for Himself our nature which had been dragged down to uttermost Hades, so as to renew this corrupted nature and raise it to the heights of Heaven. For this purpose, He had to assume a flesh that was both new and ours, that He might refashion us from out of ourselves. Now He finds a Handmaiden perfectly suited to these needs, the supplier of Her own unsullied nature, the Ever-Virgin now hymned by us, and Whose miraculous Entrance into the Temple, into the Holy of Holies, we now celebrate. God predestined Her before the ages for the salvation and reclaiming of our kind. She was chosen, not just from the crowd, but from the ranks of the chosen of all ages, renowned for piety and understanding, and for their God-pleasing words and deeds.

In the beginning, there was one who rose up against us: the author of evil, the serpent, who dragged us into the abyss. Many reasons impelled him to rise up against us, and there are many ways by which he enslaved our nature: envy, rivalry, hatred, injustice, treachery, slyness, etc. In addition to all this, he also has within him the power of bringing death, which he himself engendered, being the first to fall away from true life.

The author of evil was jealous of Adam, when he saw him being led from earth to Heaven, from which he was justly cast down. Filled with envy, he pounced upon Adam with a terrible ferocity, and even wished to clothe him with the garb of death. Envy is not only the begetter of hatred, but also of murder, which this truly man-hating serpent brought about in us. For he wanted to be master over the earth-born for the ruin of that which was created in the image and likeness of God. Since he was not bold enough to make a face to face attack, he resorted to cunning and deceit. This truly terrible and malicious plotter pretended to be a friend and useful adviser by assuming the physical form of a serpent, and stealthily took their position. By his God-opposing advice, he instills in man his own death-bearing power, like a venomous poison.

If Adam had been sufficiently strong to keep the divine commandment, then he would have shown himself the vanquisher of his enemy, and withstood his deathly attack. But since he voluntarily gave in to sin, he was defeated and was made a sinner. Since he is the root of our race, he has produced us as death-bearing shoots. So, it was necessary for us, if he were to fight back against his defeat and to claim victory, to rid himself of the death-bearing venomous poison in his soul and body, and to absorb life, eternal and indestructible life.

It was necessary for us to have a new root for our race, a new Adam, not just one Who would be sinless and invincible, but one Who also would be able to forgive sins and set free from punishment those subject to it. And not only would He have life in Himself, but also the capacity to restore to life, so that He could grant to those who cleave to Him and are related to Him by race both life and the forgiveness of their sins, restoring to life not only those who came after Him, but also those who already had died before Him. Therefore, Saint Paul, that great trumpet of the Holy Spirit, exclaims, “the first man Adam was made a living soul, the last Adam was made a quickening spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45).

Except for God, there is no one who is without sin, or life-creating, or able to remit sin. Therefore, the new Adam must be not only Man, but also God. He is at the same time life, wisdom, truth, love, and mercy, and every other good thing, so that He might renew the old Adam and restore him to life through mercy, wisdom and righteousness. These are the opposites of the things which the author of evil used to bring about our aging and death.

As the slayer of mankind raised himself against us with envy and hatred, so the Source of life was lifted up [on the Cross] because of His immeasurable goodness and love for mankind. He intensely desired the salvation of His creature, i.e., that His creature would be restored by Himself. In contrast to this, the author of evil wanted to bring God’s creature to ruin, and thereby put mankind under his own power, and tyrannically to afflict us. And just as he achieved the conquest and the fall of mankind by means of injustice and cunning, by deceit and his trickery, so has the Liberator brought about the defeat of the author of evil, and the restoration of His own creature with truth, justice and wisdom.

It was a deed of perfect justice that our nature, which was voluntarily enslaved and struck down, should again enter the struggle for victory and cast off its voluntary enslavement. Therefore, God deigned to receive our nature from us, hypostatically uniting with it in a marvelous way. But it was impossible to unite that Most High Nature, Whose purity is incomprehensible for human reason, to a sinful nature before it had been purified. Therefore, for the conception and birth of the Bestower of purity, a perfectly spotless and Most Pure Virgin was required.

Today we celebrate the memory of those things that contributed, if only once, to the Incarnation. He Who is God by nature, the Co-unoriginate and Coeternal Word and Son of the Transcendent Father, becomes the Son of Man, the Son of the Ever-Virgin. “Jesus Christ the same yesterday and today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8), immutable in His divinity and blameless in His humanity, He alone, as the Prophet Isaiah prophesied, “practiced no iniquity, nor deceit with His lips” (Is. 53: 9). He alone was not brought forth in iniquity, nor was He conceived in sin, in contrast to what the Prophet David says concerning himself and every other man (Ps. 50/51: 5). Even in what He assumes, He is perfectly pure and has no need to be cleansed Himself. But for our sake, He accepted purification, suffering, death and resurrection, that He might transmit them to us.

God is born of the spotless and Holy Virgin, or better to say, of the Most Pure and All-Holy Virgin. She is above every fleshly defilement, and even above every impure thought. Her conceiving resulted not from fleshly lust, but by the overshadowing of the Most Holy Spirit. Such desire being utterly alien to Her, it is through prayer and spiritual readiness that She declared to the angel: “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord; be it unto Me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38), and that She conceived and gave birth. So, in order to render the Virgin worthy of this sublime purpose, God marked this ever-virgin Daughter now praised by us, from before the ages, and from eternity, choosing Her from out of His elect.

Turn your attention then, to where this choice began. From the sons of Adam God chose the wondrous Seth, who showed himself a living heaven through his becoming behavior, and through the beauty of his virtues. That is why he was chosen, and from whom the Virgin would blossom as the divinely fitting chariot of God. She was needed to give birth and to summon the earth-born to heavenly sonship. For this reason also all the lineage of Seth were called “sons of God,” because from this lineage a son of man would be born the Son of God. The name Seth signifies a rising or resurrection, or more specifically, it signifies the Lord, Who promises and gives immortal life to all who believe in Him.

And how precisely exact is this parallel! Seth was born of Eve, as she herself said, in place of Abel, whom Cain killed through jealousy (Gen. 4:25); and Christ, the Son of the Virgin, was born for us in place of Adam, whom the author of evil also killed through jealousy. But Seth did not resurrect Abel, since he was only a type of the resurrection. But our Lord Jesus Christ resurrected Adam, since He is the very Life and the Resurrection of the earth-born, for whose sake the descendents of Seth are granted divine adoption through hope, and are called the children of God. It was because of this hope that they were called sons of God, as is evident from the one who was first called so, the successor in the choice. This was Enos, the son of Seth, who as Moses wrote, first hoped to call on the Name of the Lord (Gen. 4:26).

In this manner, the choice of the future Mother of God, beginning with the very sons of Adam and proceeding through all the generations of time, through the Providence of God, passes to the Prophet-king David and the successors of his kingdom and lineage. When the chosen time had come, then from the house and posterity of David, Joachim and Anna are chosen by God. Though they were childless, they were by their virtuous life and good disposition the finest of all those descended from the line of David. And when in prayer they besought God to deliver them from their childlessness, and promised to dedicate their child to God from its infancy. By God Himself, the Mother of God was proclaimed and given to them as a child, so that from such virtuous parents the all-virtuous child would be raised. So in this manner, chastity joined with prayer came to fruition by producing the Mother of virginity, giving birth in the flesh to Him Who was born of God the Father before the ages.

Now, when Righteous Joachim and Anna saw that they had been granted their wish, and that the divine promise to them was realized in fact, then they on their part, as true lovers of God, hastened to fulfill their vow given to God as soon as the child had been weaned from milk. They have now led this truly sanctified child of God, now the Mother of God, this Virgin into the Temple of God. And She, being filled with Divine gifts even at such a tender age, ... She, rather than others, determined what was being done over Her. In Her manner She showed that She was not so much presented into the Temple, but that She Herself entered into the service of God of her own accord, as if she had wings, striving towards this sacred and divine love. She considered it desirable and fitting that she should enter into the Temple and dwell in the Holy of Holies.

Therefore, the High Priest, seeing that this child, more than anyone else, had divine grace within Her, wished to set Her within the Holy of Holies. He convinced everyone present to welcome this, since God had advanced it and approved it. Through His angel, God assisted the Virgin and sent Her mystical food, with which She was strengthened in nature, while in body She was brought to maturity and was made purer and more exalted than the angels, having the Heavenly spirits as servants. She was led into the Holy of Holies not just once, but was accepted by God to dwell there with Him during Her youth, so that through Her, the Heavenly Abodes might be opened and given for an eternal habitation to those who believe in Her miraculous birthgiving.

So it is, and this is why She, from the beginning of time, was chosen from among the chosen. She Who is manifest as the Holy of Holies, Who has a body even purer than the spirits purified by virtue, is capable of receiving ... the Hypostatic Word of the Unoriginate Father. Today the Ever-Virgin Mary, like a Treasure of God, is stored in the Holy of Holies, so that in due time, (as it later came to pass) She would serve for the enrichment of, and an ornament for, all the world. Therefore, Christ God also glorifies His Mother, both before, and also after His birth.

We who understand the salvation begun for our sake through the Most Holy Virgin, give Her thanks and praise according to our ability. And truly, if the grateful woman (of whom the Gospel tells us), after hearing the saving words of the Lord, blessed and thanked His Mother, raising her voice above the din of the crowd and saying to Christ, “Blessed is the womb that bore Thee, and the paps Thou hast sucked” (Luke 11:27), then we who have the words of eternal life written out for us, and not only the words, but also the miracles and the Passion, and the raising of our nature from death, and its ascent from earth to Heaven, and the promise of immortal life and unfailing salvation, then how shall we not unceasingly hymn and bless the Mother of the Author of our Salvation and the Giver of Life, celebrating Her conception and birth, and now Her Entry into the Holy of Holies?

Now, brethren, let us remove ourselves from earthly to celestial things. Let us change our path from the flesh to the spirit. Let us change our desire from temporal things to those that endure. Let us scorn fleshly delights, which serve as allurements for the soul and soon pass away. Let us desire spiritual gifts, which remain undiminished. Let us turn our reason and our attention from earthly concerns and raise them to the inaccessible places of Heaven, to the Holy of Holies, where the Mother of God now resides.

Therefore, in such manner our songs and prayers to Her will gain entry, and thus through her mediation, we shall be heirs of the everlasting blessings to come, through the grace and love for mankind of Him Who was born of Her for our sake, our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom be glory, honor and worship, together with His Unoriginate Father and His Coeternal and Life-Creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Apostles of the Seventy Philemon and Archippus, Martyr Apphia, wife of Philemon and Equal-to-the-Apostles, and Onesimus, disciple of Saint Paul

The Holy Apostles of the Seventy Philemon and his wife Apphia lived in the city of Colossa in Phrygia. After they were baptized by the holy Apostle Paul, they converted their house into a house of prayer, where all those who believed in Christ gathered and attended services. They devoted themselves to serving the sick and downcast.

Saint Philemon became bishop of the city of Gaza, and he preached the Word of God throughout Phrygia. The holy Apostle Paul continued to be his guide, and addressed to him his Epistle filled with love, and in which he sends blessings “to Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellow laborer, and to our beloved Apphia, and to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in thy house” (Phil 1:1-3).

Saint Onesimus (February 15), also mentioned in the Epistle, was Saint Philemon’s former slave.

Saints Philemon and Apphia, and also Saint Archippus (who also lived at Colossa), all received the crown of martyrdom during the persecution of Nero (54-68). During a pagan festival an enraged crowd rushed into the Christian church when services were going on. All fled in terror, and only Saints Philemon, Archippus and Apphia remained. They seized them and led them off to the city prefect. The crowd beat and stabbed Saint Archippus with knives, and he died on the way to the court. Saints Philemon and Apphia were stoned to death by order of the prefect.

The memory of the holy Apostles Archippus, Philemon, and Apphia is celebrated also on February 19.

Martyr Michael, Prince of Tver

The Holy Right-Believing Prince Michael of Tver was born in the year 1272, after the death of his father Great Prince Yaroslav Yaroslavich, a brother of holy Prince Alexander Nevsky (November 23). On the journey to the Horde, Prince Yaroslav fell ill, and was tonsured a monk with the name Athanasius, then died. Michael’s mother, Xenia, raised her son in fervent love for God. Michael was educated and studied under the guidance of the Archbishop (probably Clement) of Novgorod. He took the place of his older brother Svyatoslav in the principality of Tver.

In 1285 he built a stone church in honor of the Savior’s Transfiguration in place of the wooden church of Saints Cosmas and Damian. Upon the death of Great Prince Andrew Alexandrovich (+1305), Michael went to the Horde and received the grant to the great princely throne by right of seniority. But Prince Yurii Danilovich of Moscow would not submit to this, because he sought the princely rule for himself. He was often at the Golden Horde of the new Khan Uzbek, who had accepted Mohammedanism and was distinguished by his cruelty and fanaticism. Prince Yurii knew how to please the Khan, and he married his sister Konchaka and became Great Prince.

Even then he did not calm down, but instead began an internecine war with Tver. In Yurii’s army was a detachment of Tatars sent by Uzbek, with Kavgadi at the head. But the men of Tver, with holy Prince Michael at the head, on December 22, 1317 defeated Yurii. Many captives were taken, including Kavgadi, whom Saint Michael released, and the Moscow prince’s wife Konchaka, who unexpectedly died at Tver.

Prince Yurii slandered Saint Michael before the Khan, accusing him of poisoning Konchaka. The Khan became enraged, threatening to destroy Saint Michael’s princely holding, and demanded that he appear to give an account. Not wishing to spill Russian blood in an unequal struggle with the Khan, Saint Michael humbly went to the Horde, knowing that this meant death for him. He bid his his family and the Tver people farewell, and received a blessing for his exploit of martyrdom from his spiritual Father Igumen John.

“Father,” said the saint, “I was much concerned for the peace of Christians, but through my sins, I was not able to stop internecine war. Now give me your blessing, so that if my blood is spilled for them, they might have some respite, and that the Lord will forgive my sins.”

At the Horde an unjust trial was held, which found the saint guilty of disobedience to the Khan, and sentenced him to death. They removed him under guard and put him in a heavy wooden stock. As was his habit, Saint Michael constantly read the Psalter in prison and blessed the Lord for granting him to suffer for Him. He asked not to be abandoned in his present torments. Since the hands of the holy sufferer were secured in the stock, a boy sat before him and turned the pages of the Psalter. The holy captive languished at the Horde for a long time, enduring beatings and ridicule. They suggested that he flee, but the saint bravely answered, “In all my life I never fled from an enemy. If I save myself and my people remain in peril, what glory is that to me? No, let it be as the Lord wills.”

Through the mercy of God, he was not deprived of Christian solace: Orthodox priests attended to him, the igumens Alexander and Mark. Each week he made his Confession and received the Holy Mysteries of Christ, thus receiving a Christian preparation for his death. At the instigation of Prince Yurii and Kavgadi, who took revenge on the holy prince for their defeat, assassins rushed into the encampment where the captive was held. They fiercely beat the martyr and kicked him with their feet, then one of them stabbed Saint Michael with a knife.

The holy martyr’s naked body was exposed for abuse, and later they covered him with a cloth and placed him on a large board attached to a cart. By night two guards were set to watch the body, but fear seized them and they fled. In the morning, his body was not on the board.

On the previous night many, not only Orthodox but also Tatars, had seen two radiant clouds shining over the place where the body of the martyr lay. Although many wild animals roamed the steppes, not one of them had touched him. In the morning everyone said, “Prince Michael is a saint, and was innocently murdered.” From the Horde the body of the prince was transferred to Moscow, where they buried him in the church of the Savior-Wood in the Kremlin.

Just a year later, in 1318, the people of Tver learned the fate of their prince. At the wish of his wife, the right-believing Princess Anna of Kashin (October 2), and at the request of the people of Tver, the relics of Saint Michael were transferred to his native city, and on September 6, 1320 were placed in the church he built in honor of the Transfiguration of the Lord. Local veneration of the holy Prince began soon after the transfer of his relics to Tver, and the general Church glorification of the saint took place at a 1549 Council.

On November 24, 1632 the incorrupt relics of Saint Michael were uncovered. The holy Prince has often helped the Russian land. In 1606 the Polish and Lithuanians besieging Tver repeatedly saw a wondrous horseman ride out from the city upon a white horse with sword in hand, turning them to flight. Later, when they saw an icon of holy Prince Michael, they affirmed with an oath to Archbishop Theoctistus of Tver that the horseman was indeed Saint Michael himself.

Blessed Yaropolk (in Baptism Peter), Prince of Vladimir-Volhynia

Holy Prince Yaropolk Izyaslavich, in Holy Baptism Peter, was the grandson of Yaroslav the Wise, and great-grandson of Saint Vladimir. He shared the sad fate of his father, the Kievan Great Prince Izyaslav, expelled by his brothers from Kiev.

Yaropolk journeyed on various missions for his father to the Polish king, the German emperor, and the Bishop of Rome Saint Gregory VII (1073-1085). Upon the death of Great Prince Svyatoslav in 1078, Prince Izyaslav was restored to his principality, and Yaropolk received Vyzhgorod. After the death of his father, he was given as his appanage the city of Vladimir-Volynsk, from which the Rostislavichi attempted to displace him.

On the way from Vladimir to Zvenigorod-Galitsk, Yaropolk was treacherously murdered by Neryadets, one of his retainers (+1086). The murderer indeed had been bribed by the Rostislavichi. The body of Yaropolk was transferred to Kiev and on December 5 was buried at the monastery of Saint Demetrius in the church of Saint Peter, which he himself had begun to build. Many Church memorials, beginning with the Chronicle of Saint Nestor, testify that the murdered Prince Yaropolk be venerated in the rank of saints well-pleasing to God.

Virgin Martyr Cecilia and the Holy Martyrs Valerian, Tiburtius and Maximus at Rome

Saint Cecilia was born in Rome during the III century to wealthy and illustrious parents, who were idolators. Hearing the Gospel preached, she came to believe in Christ, and vowed to preserve her virginity. Against her will, however, they betrothed her to a noble pagan named Valerian, and forced her to wear fine clothes and jewelry at all times. Beneath these rich garments, she wore a rough hair shirt.

Filled with love for her Bridegroom Christ, she entreated Him to prevent the wedding. When the day of the marriage arrived, Saint Cecilia wept bitterly and prayed that the Lord would send an Angel to guard her chastity. That night, as they were led to the bridal chamber, she told her husband that an invisible Angel had been sent to defend her virginity. "If you touch me," she said, "he will slay you at once."

Valerian asked to see this Angel, but she told him, "you cannot see the Angel because you do not know the true God. You will not be able to see the Angel until you are cleansed of the impurity of unbelief."

“How may I be cleansed?” he asked.

She said that if he asked Bishop Urban to baptize him, he would be able to see the Angel. The Saint persuaded her husband to see Bishop Urban, who was hiding from the persecution in a cave along the Appian Way. The wise bishop's instructions filled Valerian's soul with joy, and after his Baptism Bishop Urban sent him home.

He found Cecilia praying, and saw an Angel of indescribable beauty standing beside her, holding two crowns of red roses and white lilies. Placing the wreaths on their heads he said, "Guard these wreaths by keeping your hearts pure and your bodies undefiled. I have brought them from Paradise, and no one can see them unless they, like you, are lovers of chastity. God sent me to you, Valerian, because you have agreed to preserve your purity. He wants you to have what you desire."

Valerian said, "No one is dearer to me than my brother Tiburtius. I ask the Lord to deliver him from the worship of idols, and convert him, as he converted me."

The Angel said that this request was pleasing to God, and would be granted. He also revealed that Valerian and Tiburtius would suffer martyrdom together. Soon after this, Tiburtius came to visit his brother. When he entered the house, he noticed the fragrance of roses and lilies. Valerian told him that he was able to smell the flowers because he had prayed that Tiburtius would come to love God and become worthy of an unfading crown.

"Am I dreaming," Tiburtius exclaimed, "or are you really telling me this?"

Valerian answered, "Until now, we have been living as if in a dream, worshiping false 'gods' and unclean demons. Now we walk in God's truth and grace."

After receiving instruction, Tiburtius was baptized by Bishop Urban. Then the brothers distributed part of their inheritance to the poor, took care of the sick, and buried the Christians who had been tortured to death by their persecutors.

This was reported to Almachius, the Eparch of the city, who ordered that the brothers be arrested and brought to trial. He ordered the Saints to renounce Christ and offer sacrifice to the pagan "gods," but the brothers refused. Then they scourged the brothers without mercy. Saint Valerian urged the Christians not to fear torments, but to stand firm for Christ.

In order to prevent the brothers from influencing the people, Almachius ordered that the martyrs be taken outside the city and executed there. The soldiers accompanying the martyrs to execution were commanded by Maximus. He was amazed at the courage of the Saints, and asked them why they did not fear death. The holy brothers said that they were exchanging this temporal life for everlasting life. Maximus wanted to learn Christian teaching in detail. He took Saints Valerian and Tiburtius to his own house and conversed with them all night. When she heard of this, Saint Cecilia went with a priest to Maximus. Then he and his entire family were baptized.

The next day, when the Martyrs Valerian and Tiburtius were beheaded, Saint Maximus confessed before everyone that he saw their holy souls being taken up to Heaven. Because of this, the holy Martyr Maximus was beaten to death.

The Eparch wanted to confiscate the property of those who had been executed, but when he was told that Saint Cecilia had already given her remaining wealth to the poor and had converted 400 men, he ordered her execution. For three days they tormented her in an overheated bath-house, with the heat and steam, but she was helped by the grace of God. Seeing that Saint Cecilia was still alive, they decided to behead her. The executioner struck her three times with a sword, but only wounded her. The holy Martyr lived three more days in full consciousness, encouraging those around her. Finally, she surrendered her soul to God, and her body was buried with reverence.

Saint Cecilia is regarded as the patron Saint of Church music. St. John Chrysostom extols the benefits of sacred music, and shows how strongly the fire of divine love is kindled in the soul by devout psalmody. (On Psalm 41).

The Holy Relics of Saints Valerian and Tiburtius are in the Roman Catholic Basilica of Saints Valerian and Cecilia in Rome.

Martyr Procopius the Reader at Caesarea, in Palestine

The Holy Martyr Procopius was a reader in the Church of Jerusalem. He led a strict ascetic life, for which he received from the Lord the ability to cast out demons. The zealous preacher of the Word of God was arrested and brought to trial in Palestinian Caesarea. For his refusal to offer sacrifice to idols, he was beheaded.

Martyr Menignus at Parium

The Holy Martyr Menignus was a simple worker, a linen-bleacher. The Lord granted him His special mercy. Twice in his life, he heard a voice from Heaven calling on him to suffer for Christ.

During the persecution of Christians under the emperor Decius (249-251) a miracle occurred: an angel led Christians out of prison. Having learned of this, Saint Menignus rejoiced and loved the Savior with all his heart. Calling to mind the heavenly summons to suffer for Christ, he tore up the decree of the impious Decius which hung in the city square, and which ordered the persecution of Christians. The saint declared himself a follower of Christ. For this he was arrested and after fierce tortures he was beheaded.

Saint Agabbas of Syria

Saint Agabbas was by birth an Ishmaelite (Arab) and pursued asceticism in Syria. He was a novice under the Monk Eusebius, from whom he learned inner prayer and silence, and he lived thirty-eight years as a hermit. The saint always went barefoot, wore chains on his loins and never sat nor lay down. Saint Agabbas spent both day and night standing or kneeling, constantly at prayer. He finished his ascetic life in peace.

Righteous Michael the soldier of Potouka, Bulgaria

Saint Michael the Soldier of Bulgaria, was among the first of the Bulgarians to become Christian, and lived in the city of Potuka during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Michael III (855-867). While still an infant, he was known as a “saintly child.” From his youth he led a blameless life, possessed the fear of God, fasted, generously distributed alms to the poor, visited the sick, and was meek and humble.

At twenty-four years of age Saint Michael was made commander of a troop of soldiers. At that time, the Turks were warring against Christians, and Saint Michael inspired his troops by his bravery in battle. When the allies of the Bulgarians, the Greeks, fled from the field of battle, he fell to the ground and prayed with tears for the deliverance of the Christians. Then he led his own soldiers against the enemy. Rushing into the center of the enemy formation, he put them into disarray, and remained unharmed himself.

Returning homeward after a battle, he rescued the inhabitants of a certain city in the Raipha wilderness from a huge beast which emerged from a lake and attacked children. People came to see this brave soldier when they heard that he had slain the beast they once worshiped as a god. He preached the Gospel to them, and turned them from demon worship and human sacrifice.

Soon after he returned home, Saint Michael surrendered his soul to the Lord, Whom he had loved since his youth. He wrought many miracles after death, healing those who came to him with faith.

The transfer of the relics of the saint from Potuka to Trnovo occurred in the year 1206, and at the beginning of the nineteenth century, they were transferred to Wallachia.

Venerable Callistus Xanthopoulos of Mount Athos

Saint Callistus II pursued asceticism at the Magul skete on Holy Mount Athos (opposite the monastery of Philotheou), living there for twenty-eight years. He was the disciple of Saint Gregory of Sinai (August 8), whose Life he wrote.

Working with his fellow ascetic Ignatius of Xanthopoulos, he compiled the “Directions to Hesychasts in One Hundred Chapters” found in the second part of the Slavonic edition of the Philokalia (English translation in Kadlubovsky and Palmer, Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart). As their contemporary, Saint Simeon of Thessalonica (September 15) asserts, Saints Callistus and Ignatius of Xanthopoulos beheld the Uncreated Light, as the apostles had done on Mount Tabor. Their faces seemed to “shine like the sun.”

In 1397 he was elevated to the patriarchal throne, and was hierarch during the days of Manuel Paleologos (1391-1425). He agreed to journey to Serbia in order to bring peace to that church, stopping along the way at Mt Athos. There, the Patriarch was told that he would not see his flock again. Upon reaching Serbia, he exchanged this temporal life for life eternal.

New Hieromartyr Alexis (Benemanskii) of Tver

Born January 6, 1881 in the Tver region, the New Martyr Alexis Constantinovich Benemanskii was a priest of the Diocese of Tver, Russia, during the early 1900s. He widely opposed the Living Church, which had been set up in the 1920s by the Soviet state to challenge the legitimacy of the Patriarchate of Moscow and, initially, Saint Tikhon himself. He was tenacious in defending the canonical Church against the "renovationists," as proponents of the Living Church were called, and was unwilling to sacrifice his principles. Over the years, he had been arrested four times and imprisoned or exiled. On December 4/November 21, 1937, he was arrested again, together with his coworker Archpriest Elias Gromoglasov, and martyred the following day, having been accused of taking part in fictitious counter-revolutionary activities allegedly organized by the New Martyr Archbishop Thaddeus of Tver, who was arrested three days later and subsequently martyred. He was canonized by the Diocese of Tver in 1999 and was numbered among those glorified as new martyrs and confessors of the Soviet Yoke by the Russian Orthodox Church in August 2000.

New Hieromartyr Elias (Gromoglasov) of Tver

Born in 1869, the New Martyr Elias Gromoglasov was a priest of the Diocese of Tver, Russia, during the early 1900s. He was well educated in canon law, theology and other disciplines, had taught for many years, and had authored numerous pieces on a variety of topics ranging from canon law to the Old Believer Schism. In the early 1920s he was arrested in Moscow due to his opposition to the confiscation of Church property by the Soviet regime, but was soon released. In 1925 he was again arrested and sentenced to three years of exile in Surgut, Siberia. Deprived of the right to reside in Moscow after his release, he relocated to Tver. On December 4, 1937, he was again arrested with his coworker, Saint Alexis Benemanskii, with whom he was martyred on the following day. He was canonized by the Diocese of Tver in 1999 and was numbered among those glorified as new martyrs and confessors of the Soviet Yoke by the Russian Orthodox Church in August 2000.