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Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost. [II Cor. 4:6-15; Matt. 22:35-46]

The Lord offered the commandment about love for God and one’s neighbor, and immediately supplemented it with the teaching about His Sonship to God and His Divinity. Why was this? Because true love for God and people is possible no way other than by the influence of faith in the Divinity of Christ the Saviour, that He is the incarnate Son of God. Such faith arouses love for God, for how can one not love God, who has loved us so much, Who did not even spare His Only-Begotten Son, but gave Him up for us? Faith brings this love to complete fulfilment, or to what it seeks; while love seeks a living union. To attain this union, one must overcome a feeling of God’s righteousness which punishes sin; without this it is terrifying to approach God. This feeling is overcome through the conviction that God’s righteousness is satisfied by the death on the cross of the Son of God. Such a conviction comes from faith; consequently, faith opens the path of love toward God. This is the first thing. Second: faith in the Divinity of the Son of God Who was incarnate, suffered, and was buried for our sake, gives an example of love for one’s neighbor; for love is when one lays down his soul for his beloved. Faith also gives strength for the manifestation of such love. To have such love, one must become a new person instead of an egotistical person—one must become a self-sacrificing person. Only in Christ does a person become a new creature; but we can only be in Christ if we unite with Christ by faith and grace-filled rebirth through the holy mysteries accepted with faith. From here it follows that any expectation by people without faith to maintain even good moral conduct is in vain. Everything is together; it is impossible to divide a man. One must satisfy all of him.

Monday (Holy Week). [Matt. 24:3–35]

The Lord goes to a voluntary passion. We must accompany Him. This is the duty of anyone who confesses that by the power of Christ’s passion he has become who he is now, and of anyone who hopes to receive something which is so great and glorious, that it could not even enter one’s mind. How must one accompany Him? Through reflection and sympathy. Follow the suffering Lord in thought; and in your reflection extract such impressions as could strike your heart and bring it to feel the sufferings which were borne by the Lord. In order to better accomplish this, you must make yourself suffer through perceptible lessening of food and sleep, and an increase in the labour of standing and kneeling. Fulfil all that the Holy Church does, and you will be a good fellow-traveller of the Lord to His sufferings.

[Phil. 4:4–9; John 12:1–18] Who did not meet the Lord when He, as a king, tri­um­phant­ly en­ter­ed in­to Je­ru­sa­lem; and who did not cry out then, Ho­san­na to the Son of Da­vid! (Matt. 21:15)? But on­ly four days pass­ed, and the same crowd with the same tongues cried, Cru­ci­fy Him, cru­ci­fy Him! (John 19:6). An a­maz­ing change! But why should we be surprised? Do we not do the very same thing, when up­on re­ceiv­ing the ho­ly Mys­ter­ies of the Bo­dy and Blood of the Lord, we bare­ly leave the church be­fore for­get­ting ev­ery­thing — both our rev­er­ence and God’s mer­cy to­ward us. We give our­selves over as be­fore to self-pleas­ing deeds — at first small and then al­so large. Per­haps even be­fore four days have pass­ed, al­though we do not cry, “Cru­ci­fy Him!” we will cru­ci­fy the Lord with­in our­selves. The Lord sees all of this, and suf­fers. Glo­ry to Thy long­suf­fer­ing, O Lord!

Commemorated on April 13

holy-martyress-thomaidaThe Holy Martyress Thomaida was born into a Christian family in the city of Alexandria. In her childhood she was educated in piety and loved to read Holy Scripture.

At 15 years of age the girl entered into marriage with a fisherman, – also a Christian. The young couple lived in the household of the husband’s family, where Saint Thomaida was loved for her mild and gentle disposition, and virtue and prudence.

The father-in-law of Saint Thomaida, at the prompting of the devil, was captivated by her beauty. When his son went out at night for fishing, he began seeking to lead his daughter-in-law into sin. In vain did Saint Thomaida admonish the senseless old man, reminding him about the last Judgement and about the penalty for sin. Infuriated by the steadfastness of Saint Thomaida, he thoughtlessly seized a sword and began to threaten her with death. But Saint Thomaida answered resolutely: “Even if thou cut me in two, I shall not stray from the commandments of the Lord”.

Overcome with passion, the father-in-law swung the sword and struck Saint Thomaida. The saint received a martyr’s death for her prudence and faith in the commandments of God in the year 476.

Divine chastisement befell the murderer. He instantly became blinded and was not able to go out the door to flee. In the morning there arrived companions of the saint’s husband. They opened the doors and saw the body of the saint and the blood-stained blind old man. The murderer himself confessed his evil deed and asked to be condemned to death by execution.

During this time there arrived in Alexandria from a wilderness skete the Monk Daniel. He bid the monks of the nearby Oktodecadia monastery to take the body of the martyress to bury in the monastery cemetery. Some of the monks were perplexed, how it should be possible to bury a woman with monks. The monk Daniel answered: “This girl – is a mother for me and you. She died for purity”.

After a solemn funeral the Monk Daniel returned to his own skete. Soon one of the young monks began to complain to him, that fleshly passions tormented him. The monk Daniel ordered him to go and pray at the grave of the holy martyress Thomaida. The monk did the bidding of the elder. During the time of prayer at the grave he fell into a light sleep. Saint Thomaida then appeared to him and said: “Father, have my blessing and go in peace”.

Having awakened, the monk felt at joy and peace in his soul. And after this the fleshly struggle no longer disturbed him. Abba Daniel explained to him: “The blessing – was the gift of the martyress’ prudence; the ascetic deeds of purity hold such power before God”.

In later times many found at the grave of Saint Thomaida both spiritual joy and release from their passions. The relics of Saint Thomaida were transferred to Constantinople to one of the women’s monasteries. In the year 1420 the Russian pilgrim archdeacon Zosima viewed them.

© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.

Thurs­day. Hear thou, my son, and be wise, and guide thine heart in the way (Prov. 23:19). Out of the heart con­tin­u­al­ly pro­ceed thoughts which some­times are good, but more of­ten are evil. The evil ones should not be fol­low­ed at all, but even the good ones should not al­ways be car­ried out. It hap­pens that even thoughts which are good in and of them­selves are in­ap­pro­pri­ate in re­al­i­ty, due to cir­cum­stances. This is why it is pre­scribed to be at­ten­tive to­ward one­self, to keep an eye on all that pro­ceeds out of the heart — to re­ject the evil, con­sid­er what is good, and ful­fil on­ly what proves to be tru­ly good. But best of all would be to to­tal­ly im­pris­on the heart, so that noth­ing leaves it and noth­ing en­ters it with­out the per­mis­sion of the mind; so that the mind would come first in all things, de­ter­min­ing the move­ments of the heart. But the mind is this way on­ly when it is the mind of Christ. Thus, unite with Christ in mind and heart and ev­ery­thing with­in you will be in good work­ing or­der.

Wednes­day. Cry aloud, says the Lord to the Ho­ly Proph­et Isa­iah; spare not, convicting the trans­gres­sions of My peo­ple. What did the peo­ple do? They seek me dai­ly, and de­light to know my ways.[1] But is there re­al­ly a sin in this? In­deed, they ought to do this. Yes, they ought to, but the fact is that they do this not as they ought. They hope to be suc­cess­ful in their seek­ing through fast­ing alone, not caring for works of righ­teous­ness and love. “Fast­ing is pleas­ing to Me,” says the Lord, “but on­ly such fast­ing where­by peo­ple, in hum­bling their bod­y, for­give of­fenc­es, for­give debts, feed the hun­gry, bring the out­cast out to their house, clothe the na­ked. When all of this is done to­geth­er with fast­ing, then you will suc­ceed in seek­ing Me and ap­proach­ing Me; then shall thy light break forth as the morn­ing… the glo­ry of the Lord shall be thy re­ward. Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall an­swer; thou shalt cry, and He shall say, Here I am… And the Lord shall guide thee con­tin­u­al­ly (Isa. 58:1–11).
[1] The Sla­von­ic for the sec­ond quote reads: they seek Me, take de­light in ap­proach­ing God.

Commemorated on April 10

holy-martyrs-kvabtakhevi-monasteryIn the 14th century, during the reign of King Bagrat V (1360–1394), Timur (Tamerlane) invaded Georgia seven times. His troops inflicted irreparable damage on the country, seizing centuries-old treasures and razing ancient churches and monasteries.

Timur’s armies ravaged Kartli, then took the king, queen, and the entire royal court captive and sent them to Karabakh (in present-day Azerbaijan). Later Timur attempted to entice King Bagrat to renounce the Christian Faith in exchange for permission to return to the throne and for the release of the other Georgian prisoners.

For some time Timur was unable to subjugate King Bagrat, but in the end, being powerless and isolated from his kinsmen, the king began to falter. He devised a sly scheme: to confess Islam before the enemy, but to remain a Christian at heart. Satisfied with King Bagrat’s decision to “convert to Islam,” Timur permitted the king to return to the throne of Kartli. At the request of King Bagrat, Timur sent twelve thousand troops with him to complete Georgia’s forcible conversion to Islam.

When they were approaching the village of Khunani in southeastern Georgia, Bagrat secretly informed his son Giorgi of everything that had happened and called upon him and his army to massacre the invaders.

The news of Bagrat’s betrayal and the ruin of his army infuriated Timur, and he called for immediate revenge. At their leader’s command, his followers destroyed everything in their path, set fire to cities and villages, devastated churches, and thus forced their way through to Kvabtakhevi Monastery.

Monastics and laymen alike were gathered in Kvabtakhevi when the enemy came thundering in. Having forced open the gate, the attackers burst into the monastery, then plundered and seized all its treasures. They captured the young and strong, carrying them away.

The old and infirm were put to the sword. As the greatest humiliation, they mocked the clergy and monastics by strapping them with sleigh bells and jumping and dancing around them.

Already drunk on the blood they had shed, the barbarians posed an ultimatum to those who remained: to renounce Christ and live or to be driven into the church and burned alive.

Faced with these terms, the faithful cried out: “Go ahead and burn our flesh—in the Heavenly Kingdom our souls will burn with a divine flame more radiant than the sun!” And in their exceeding humility, the martyrs requested that their martyrdom not be put on display: “We ask only that you not commit this sin before the eyes of men and angels. The Lord alone knows the sincerity of our will and comforts us in our righteous afflictions!”

Having been driven like beasts into the church, the martyrs raised up a final prayer to God: “In the multitude of Thy mercy shall I go into Thy house; I shall worship toward Thy holy temple in fear of Thee. O Lord, guide me in the way of Thy righteousness; because of mine enemies, make straight my way before Thee (Ps. 5:6–7) that with a pure mind I may glorify Thee forever….”

The executioners hauled in more and more wood, until the flames enveloping the church blazed as high as the heavens and the echo of crackling timber resounded through the mountains. Ensnared in a ring of fire, the blissful martyrs chanted psalms as they gave up their spirits to the Lord.

The massacre at Kvabtakhevi took place in 1386. The imprints of the martyrs’ charred bodies remain on the floor of the church to this day.

© 2006 St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood.

Mon­day (6th week of Lent). Thus says the Lord: I am the Lord thy God which teacheth thee to prof­it, which leadeth thee by the way that thou should­est go. O that thou hadst heark­en­ed to my com­mand­ments! Then had thy peace been as a riv­er, and thy righ­teous­ness as the waves of the sea: Thy seed al­so had been as the sand, and the off­spring of thy bow­els like the grav­el there­of; his name should not have been cut off nor de­stroy­ed from be­fore me. Un­der what con­di­tion should all this come to pass? Go ye forth out of Bab­y­lon (Isa. 48:17–20). Bab­y­lon is an im­age of all-a­round sin­ful­ness. Aban­don sin, turn to the Lord with all of your heart. He will not re­mem­ber your trans­gres­sions, and will con­sign all of your un­righ­teous­ness to obliv­i­on. You will en­ter again in­to mer­cy with Him — and then you need on­ly to walk the way which He will teach you, and your in­ner peace will be like a riv­er, the good thoughts of your heart like the sand, and the fruits of your good works like the dust of the ground.[1]

[1] The Sla­von­ic for Isa. 48:19–20 reads: …and the off­spring of thy bow­els like the dust of the ground. The word­ing, dust of the ground, in the Sla­von­ic re­fers to Gen­e­sis 2:7.

Thursday. A haughty spirit goeth be‐fore a fall (Prov. 16:18).[1] There‐fore, do not allow evil thoughts to come in, and there will be no falls. And yet what are people most care‐less about? About their thoughts. They allow them to seethe as much and however they like, not even thinking to subdue them, or to di‐rect them to rational pursuits. Meanwhile, within this inner tur‐moil the enemy approaches, places evil in the heart, seduces it and in‐clines it toward evil. And the person unnoticeably prepares himself for evil. It remains for him to either carry out the evil fixed to his heart, or to struggle with it. But this is our sorrow: that almost nobody takes on the struggle; while all are led to the evil as if bound.

[1] The Slavonic for Prov. 16:18 reads: Evil thoughts go before a fall.

Commemorated on April 3, May 29

The Holy Martyress Theodosia of Tyre suffered in the year 307. On 29 May is celebrated the transfer of her relics to Constantinople, and later on to Venice. Once, during a time of persecution against Christians, which then had already lasted for five years, the seventeen year old Theodosia went up to condemned Christian prisoners, situated in the Praetorium. It was the day of Holy Pascha, and the martyrs spoke about the Kingdom of God. Saint Theodosia asked them to remember her before the Lord, when they should come to stand before Him. Soldiers saw that the maiden bowed to the prisoners, and they seized hold of her and led her before the governor, Urban. The governor advised the maiden to offer sacrifice to the idols but she refused, confessing her faith in Christ. Then they subjected the saint to cruel tortures, – her body they struck at with iron claws such that they did lay bare the bones. The martyress was silent and with an happy face endured the sufferings, and to a second suggestion by the governor to offer sacrifice to the idols she answered: “Thou fool, I have been granted to join the martyrs!” They threw the maiden with a stone about her neck into the sea, but Angels drew her out from the depths. Then they gave over the martyress for devouring by wild beasts. Seeing that the beasts would not touch her, they cut off her head. By night Saint Theodosia appeared to her parents, who had tried to talk their daughter into not going to the sufferings. She was in bright garb with a crown upon her head and a luminous gold cross in her hand, and she said: “Behold the great glory that ye did want to deprive me of!”.