April 17 2020 - April 04 2020

Monks: Joseph, Writer of Church-Song (+ 863) and George at Maleia (IX).

Monks: Joseph the Much-Sick, of Pechersk in the Farther Caves (XIV); Jakov of Galich (XV-XVI); Zosima of Vorbozomsk (+ c. 1550); Adrian; Paphnutios; Zosima of Palestine (+ c. 560); Theon, Metropolitan of Soluneia (Thessalonika) (XVI). Saints Ambrose and Thomas.

VirginMartyr Pherbutha, with her sister and her servants (+ c. 341-343). Martyr Kallinikos. Martyr Theodore. PriestMartyr Nikita the Slav (+ 1808) (Athos).

Icon of the Mother of God named “Gerontissa”.

The Monk Joseph, Writer of Church-Song, was born in Cilicia in a pious Christian family. His parents, Plotinos and Agathea, resettled into the Peloponnesus to save themselves from barbarian invasions. At age 15, Saint Joseph departed for Thessalonika and entered a monastery. He distinguished himself by his piety, his love for work, his meekness, and he gained the good-will of all the brethren of the monastery. The monk was later ordained to the dignity of presbyter.

The Monk Gregory Dekapolites (Comm. 20 November) visited the monastery and took notice of the young monk, taking him along to Constantinople, where they settled together near the church of the holy Martyrs Sergios and Bakkhos. This was during the reign of the emperor Leo the Armenian (813-820) – a time of fierce iconoclast persecutions. The Monks Gregory and Joseph fearlessly defended the veneration of holy icons. They preached in the squares of the city and visited in the homes of the Orthodox, encouraging them against the heretics. The position of the Constantinople Church was grievous to the extreme: not only the emperor, but also the patriarch – both were iconoclast heretics.

During these times the Roman bishops were in communion with the OEcumenical Church, and Pope Leo III – not being under the dominion of the Byzantine emperor, was able to render great help to the Orthodox. The Orthodox monks chose the Monk Joseph as a steadfast and quite eloquent messenger to the Pope. The Monk Gregory blessed him to journey to Rome and to report about the position of the Constantinople Church, and about the dangers threatening Orthodoxy.

During the journey, the Monk Joseph was captured by Arab brigands which had been bribed by the iconoclasts. They took him off to the island of Crete, where they handed him over to the iconoclasts. The Monk Joseph was locked up in prison. Bravely enduring all the deprivations, he encouraged also the other prisoners. Through the prayers of the monk, a certain Orthodox bishop who had begun to waver was strengthened in spirit and courageously accepted a martyr’s death.

The Monk Joseph spent six years in prison. On the night of the Nativity of Christ in 820 he was granted a vision of Sainted Nicholas of Myra, who informed him about the death of the iconoclast-oppressor Leo the Armenian, and also the cessation of the persecution over holy icons. Saint Nicholas gave the monk a scroll of paper and said: “Take this scroll and eat it”. On the scroll was written: “Hasten, O Gracious One, and attend to our aid in as Thou art the Merciful One, as may be possible and as Thou dost will”. The monk read the scroll, ate it and said: How sweet to my throat art these words (Ps. 118 [119]: 103). Saint Nicholas bid him to sing forth these words. After this the fetters of themself fell off from the monk, the doors of the prison opened up, and he freely emerged from it and was transported in the air and placed down on a large avenue near Constantinople, leading into the city. At Constantinople the Monk Joseph found that the Monk Gregory Dekapolites was no longer among the living, rather only his disciple Blessed John (Comm. 18 April), who likewise soon died. The Monk Joseph built a church in the name of Saint Nicholas and transferred there the relics of the Monks Gregory and John. And nearby the church was founded a monastery.

The Monk Joseph received also part of the relics of the Apostle Bartholomew from a certain virtuous man. He built a church in the name of the holy apostle and wanted to solemnly honour his memory, but he was distressed that there was no laudatory canon of song glorifying the memory of the holy apostle, and he himself did not dare to compile it. For forty days the Monk Joseph prayed with tears, preparing for the feastday in memory of the holy apostle. On the eve of the feast the Apostle Bartholomew appeared to him in the altar, put the holy Gospel to his bosom and blessed him to write church canonical song with the words: “May the right hand of the All-Powerful God bless thee, that thy tongue pour forth waters of Heavenly Wisdom, that thy heart be a temple of the Holy Spirit, and thy church-song be sweet with rejoicing”. After this miraculous appearance, the Monk Joseph compiled a canon to the Apostle Bartholomew, and from that time he began to compose canonical song in honour of the Mother of God, of the holy saints and in their midst – in honour of Saint Nicholas, his liberator from prison.

During the period of the renewal of the iconoclast heresy under the emperor Theophilus (829-842), the Monk Joseph suffered a second time from the heretics. He was sent off into exile to Chersun (Chersonessus) for 11 years. The Orthodox veneration of holy icons was restored under the holy empress Theodora (Comm. 11 February) in 842, and the Monk Joseph was made keeper of vessels at the Sophia cathedral in Constantinople. But because of his bold denunciation of the brother of the empress, Bardas, for unlawful co-habitation, the monk was again sent off into exile and returned only after the death of Bardas in 867.

Patriarch Photios (857-867, 877-886) restored him to his former position and appointed him father-confessor for all the Constantinople clergy.

Having reached old age, the Monk Joseph fell ill. Just before Pascha, on Great Friday, the Lord informed him in a dream vision about his approaching demise. The monk made an inventory of church articles in the Sophia cathedral, such things as were under his official care, and he sent it off to Patriarch Photios. For several days he prayed intensely, preparing for death. In his prayers the monk besought peace for the Church, and for his soul – the mercy of God. Having communed the Holy Mysteries of Christ, the Monk Joseph gave blessing to all that came to him, and with joy he reposed to God (+ 863). The choirs of the angels and the saints, whom the Monk Joseph had glorified by his canonical song, in triumph carried up his soul to the Heavenly realm.

About the spirit and power of the canon-song of the Monk Joseph, his biographer the Constantinople Church deacon John wrote thus in about the year 890: “When he began to write verses, then the hearing was taken with a wondrous pleasantness of sound, and the heart was struck by the power of the thought… Those that strive for the life of perfection find here a respite… Writers, having left off with their other versification, from this one treasure-trove – from the writings of Saint Joseph – began to scoop out his treasure for their own songs, or better said, daily they scoop them out. And finally, all the people carry it over into their own language, so as to enlighten with song the darkness of night, or staving off sleep, to continue with the vigil til sunrise… If anyone were peruse the life of a saint celebrated on whatever the day of the Church, they would see the worthiness of song of Saint Joseph and acknowledge his glorious life. Actually, since the life and deeds of almost every saint are adorned with praises, is not he worthy of immortal glory, that hath worthily and exquisitely known how to glorify them! And now let some other saints glorify his meekness, and others – his wisdom, and others – his works, and all together glorify the grace of the Holy Spirit, Which so abundantly and immeasurably hath bestown him his gifts”.

The Monk George lived during the IX Century. He pursued asceticism at a monastery on Mount Malea in the Peloponessus, and here also he died. In the service to him, the Monk George is supplicated as an earthly Angel and wonderworker.

The Monk Joseph the Much-Sick lived during the XIV Century. In his grievous illness he turned to God with prayer and made a vow: if the Lord granted him health, he would then serve the brethren of the Kievo-Pechersk monastery until the end of his days. The prayer of the much-sick sufferer was heard. After his return to health, he entered the Kievo-Pechersk monastery, took monastic vows and began fervently to work at deeds of fasting and prayer, and with love to serve the brethren. After his death the Monk Joseph was buried in the Farther Caves (his memory is likewise celebrated together with the Sobor-Assemblage of the Monks of the Farther Caves on 28 August).

The Monk Jakov of Galich asceticised during the XV-XVI Centuries at the Starotorzhsk monastery in the city of Galich in the Kostroma district, nearby the Stolbischa marker, or Staroe-town. They suggest, that the Starotorshzk monastery was founded by the Monk Jakov of Zhelesnoborovsk (Comm. 11 April). The Monk Jakov died a schema-monk and was buried beneathe the altar of the monastery church in honour of Saints Boris and Gleb. His image was written similar to that of the Monk Zosima of Solovetsk (Comm. 17 April).

The Monk Zosima of Vorbozomsk was the founder of a monastery in honour of the Annuniciation of the MostHoly Mother of God on an island in Lake Vorbozoma, situated 23 versts to the south of Belozersk. The monastery was founded way back in the XV Century, since it is known, that in the year 1501 the head of the monastery was Hegumen Jona, a disciple of the Monk Zosima. The monastery was among the number of those numerous wilderness-monasteries (small monasteries) which, being of the form of the so-called “Trans-Volga” monasteries, were dispersed around the Kirillo-Belozersk monastery. The Monk Zosima died in the first half of the XVI Century. It is known, that the monk wrote guidances and letters to his spiritual daughter Anastasia.

The Holy Martyress Pherbutha and her Sister and Servants accepted a martyr’s death for Christ between the years 341 and 343. Saint Pherbutha and her sister, whose name is unknown, were sisters by birth of the Seleucia bishop Simeon, who suffered for Christ under the Persian emperor Sapor between the years 341-344. Both sisters and their servants had been brought to the court by the empress to attend her. Saint Pherbutha was distinguished by her extraordinary beauty, and the empress suggested to her to enter into marriage to gain high position. The saint refused, since she had given a vow of virginity in total service to God. Soon the empress fell ill. The sorcerers, which they brought in to treat the empress, saw Saint Pherbutha and were struck by her extraordinary beauty. One of them turned to her with a proposal, that she become his wife. The saint answered him, that she was a Christian and had given a vow to remain a bride of Christ.

The offended sorcerer reported to the emperor, that the reason for the sickness of the empress was poison, given her by servants. By order of the emperor Saint Pherbutha, and her sister and servants were brought to trial.

At the trial the holy martyresses fearlessly declared, that they were Christians and they would not do the wickedness of which they were accused, and that they were prepared to accept death for Christ.

The chief judge, the sorcerer Mauptis, was captivated by the beauty of the holy virgin Pherbutha, and he secretly sent to her his servant into the prison with an offer to free her and her companions, if only the maiden would consent to become his wife. The two other judges made similar offers to the holy virgin, secretly one after the other.

Saint Pherbutha resolutely refused all these offers, saying that she was a bride of Christ and could never consent to an earthly marriage.

After this, the martyresses were found guilty of being Christians and of working magic in the poisoning of the empress, and they were sentenced to death by execution. They tied each of them to two pillars and sawed them in half. The bodies of the holy martyresses were thrown into a ditch, from which Christians secretly retrieved them and gave them burial.

The Holy Martyr Kallinikos was torn apart by wild beasts.

The Monk Zosima of Palestine: The account about him is in the Vita of the Nun Mary of Egypt (Comm. 1 April).

Sainted Theon asceticised during the XVI Century on Athos, at first in the monastery of the Pantokrator, and then in the Shersk (Hair) skete-monastery of Saint John, the Venerable ForeRunner and Baptist of the Lord. Here his guide was the Monk Jakov (James) of Iveria. After the martyr’s death of his spiritual-guide, Saint Theon became head of the monastery of the holy GreatMartyress Anastasia on the outskirts of the village of Galatista. He was ordained bishop and was elevated at Soluneia (Thessalonika) to the metropolitan cathedra-seat. The final years of his life were spent in deeds of solitude near the monastery of the holy GreatMartyress Anastasia Alleviatrix-of-Captives (Comm. 22 December), wherein also his holy relics now rest, together with the head and right hand of the GreatMartyress Anastasia, and the heads of three monk-martyrs that suffered under the Turks – James, another James, and Arsenios.

The PriestMartyr Nikita, a Slav from Albania, asceticised at the end of the XVIII Century at Athos in the Russian Panteleimonov monastery, where he took monastic vows and was ordained to the dignity of priest-monk. He yearned for solitude and transferred to the skete-monastery of Saint Anna. The saint burned with a desire to serve the Lord Jesus Christ with the deed of being a confessor. In order to denounce the antagonists of Christianity, Saint Nikita went to the city of Serres. For a certain while he dwelt at the local monastery, where he readied himself for his pending deed. Then Saint Nikita fearlessly went up to the local head Mahometan and asked, that the Moslems demonstrate the correctness of their faith. In a disputation of words with the learned mullahs the saint unmasked their error and reduced them to silence. They began with threats to coerce him into an acceptance of Mahometanism, but the saint firmly confessed his faith in Christ. Then they gave him over to cruel tortures: they tightened his head with a screw-press, drove needles under his nails, and scorched him with fire while hung head downwards. The saint underwent everything with great endurance and did not cease to glorify Christ. Finally, Saint Nikita was sentenced to be strangled. The PriestMartyr Nikita died on 4 April 1808 on the evening of Great Saturday. Christians gave ransom for his body and gave it over to burial. The priest-monk of the Serres monastery Konstantios, and the local physician Nicholas, wrote on 19 February 1809 about the act of the Martyr Nikita – to Russik (the Russian monastery of the GreatMartyr Panteleimon on Athos).

The Icon of the Mother of God, named “Gerontissa” (“Staritsa” – “Nastoyatel’nitsa”, “Head” – “Elderess”), was glorified in the Athos monastery of the Pantokrator (“Vsederzhitel'”, “Ruler of All”).

The pious hegumen-elder of this monastery received a revelation about his impending end. Before death he wanted to be communed the Holy Mysteries of Christ and he besought of the serving priest to hasten to make the Divine Liturgy, but that one did not heed his request. Then from the wonderworking Gerontissa Icon in the altar was heard a fiercesome voice, ordering the priest to hasten to fulfill the wish of his hegumen.

Another miracle from the icon occurred, when through the prayer of the head of the monastery, oil appeared in empty monastic vessels.

On the icon, the Mother of God is imaged in full stature without the Christ-Child. Before Her is a vessel, from which oil pours out over the edge.

An icon of the Gerontissa Mother of God is known of in the altar of the Uspenie-Dormition cathedral church in the Pochaev Lavra. Through the blessing of Archbishop Modest of Volynsk and Zhitomir, priest-servers before the start of Divine-services asked the blessing for the start of services in front of the Icon of the Mother of God.

© 1999 by translator Fr. S. Janos