April 27 2020 - April 14 2020
Sainted Martin the Confessor, Pope of Rome (+ 655).
Martyrs Antonii, John, and Eustathii of Lithuania (+ 1347); Ardalion (+ c. 305-311); Christophoros Savvaites (VIII). Saint Valentine.
Vilensk Icon of the Mother of God.
Sainted Martin the Confessor, Pope of Rome, was a native of the Tuscany region of Italy. He received a fine education and entered into the clergy of the Roman Church. After the death of Pope Theodore I (642-649), presbyter Martin was chosen to the throne.
At this time the peace of the Church was disturbed by the Monothelite heresy, which had become widespread.
The endless disputes of the Monothelites with the Orthodox took place in all levels of the population. Even the emperor Constans (641-668) and the Constantinople Patriarch Paul II (641-654) were adherents of the Monothelite heresy. The emperor Constans published the heretical “Pattern of Faith” (Tupos), obligatory for all the population. In it was forbidden all further disputes.
The heretical “Pattern of Faith” was received at Rome in the year 649. Holy Pope Martin, a firm supporter of Orthodoxy, convened at Rome the local (Lateran) Council, which condemned the Monothelite heresy. At the same time Saint Martin sent a letter to the Constantinople Patriarch Paul with an exhortation to return to the Orthodox confession. The enraged emperor ordered the military commander Olympios to bring Saint Martin to trial. But Olympios, being at Rome, feared the clergy and the people who had descended upon the Council, and he dispatched a soldier to secretly murder the holy Pope. When the assassin approached Saint Martin, he was unexpectedly blinded. The terrified Olympios hastily journeyed to Sicily and was soon killed in battle.
In 654 the emperor with his former aim sent to Rome another military commander, Theodore, who accused Saint Martin of the serious charges of being in secret correspondence with the enemies of the empire – the Saracens, and of blaspheming the MostHoly Mother of God, and of uncanonically entering upon the papal throne. Despite the presenting by Roman clergy and laity of proof of full innocence of the holy Pope, the military commander Theodore with a detachment of soldiers seized hold of Saint Martin by night and took him to one of the Cycladian islands, – Naxos, in the Aegean Sea. Saint Martin spent an entire year on this almost unpopulated island, suffering deprivation and abuse from the guards. Then they sent the exhausted confessor for trial to Constantinople.
They brought the sick elder on a stretcher, but the judges callously ordered him to raise himself up and give answer standing. Again there came an interrogation, and soldiers propped up the saint weakened by illness. At the trial false-witnesses came forward, slandering the saint and imputing treasonous relations with the Saracens. The biased judges did not even bother to hear the defence of the saint. In profound grief he said: “To the Lord is known, what great kindliness ye would show me, if quickly ye would deliver me over to death”.
After suchlike trial they brought forth the saint in tattered garb to the jeering of a crowd, which they forced to shout: “Anathema to Pope Martin!” But those who knew the holy Pope was suffering innocently, withdrew in tears. Finally the sakellarios (shield‑bearer), sent by the emperor, approached the military commander and declared the sentence – to deprive the Pope of his dignity and deliver him to death by execution. They put the half-naked saint into chains and dragged him to prison, where they locked him up with thieves. These were more merciful to the saint than the heretics.
Amidst this the emperor went to the dying Patriarch of Constantinople Paul and told him about the trial over Saint Martin. That one turned away from the emperor and said: “Woe is me! Yet another deed towards my judgement”, – and he besought that the tortures of Saint Martin be stopped. The emperor again sent a notary and other persons to the saint in prison for continued interrogation. The saint answered them: “If even they smash me up, I wilt not have relations with the Constantinople Church while it dwelleth in bad-faith”. The torturers were astonished at the boldness of the confessor and they commuted his death by execution with exile in the faraway Tauridian Chersonesus.
There also the saint died, exhausted by sickness, want, hunger and deprivations (+ 16 September 655). He was buried outside the city in the Blakhernae church in the name of the MostHoly Mother of God.
The Monothelite heresy was condemned at the VI OEcumenical Council in the year 680. The relics of the holy confessor Pope Martin were transferred to Constantinople, and thence to Rome.
The Holy Martyrs Antonii, John and Eustathii suffered for Christ under the Lithuanian GreatPrince Ol’gerd (1345-1377). The prince was married to the Vitebsk Orthodox princess Maria Yaroslavna (+ 1346). He himself was baptised and during the lifetime of his spouse he allowed the preaching of Christianity. Two brothers by birth, Nezhilo and Kumets, received holy Baptism from the clergy of the princess the priest Nestor, and they received the names Antonii and John. And at the request of Maria Yaroslavna there was even built at Vilna an Orthodox church.
But after the death of his spouse, prince Ol’gerd began openly to support the pagan priests of the fire-worshippers, who started a persecution against Christians. Saints John and Antonii endeavoured not to display their belonging to the Christians, but still they did not observe the pagan customs, they did not cut their hair as the pagans did, and on fastdays they did not eat forbidden foods.
The prince soon became suspicious of the brothers in the renunciation of faith, so he interrogated them and they confessed themselves Christians. Then they demanded them to eat meat (it was a fast day). The holy brothers refused, and the prince locked them up in prison. The brothers spent an entire year incarcerated. John took fright at the impending tortures and declared, that he would fulfill all the demands of the GreatPrince. The delighted Ol’gerd released both brothers and drew them near to himself.
But Antonii did not betray Christ. When he again refused to eat meat on a fast day, the prince again locked him up in prison and subjected him to brutal tortures. The renouncing brother remained free, but as a traitor not only did the Christians not associate with him, but neither did the pagans. Repenting of his sin, John went to the priest Nestor and asked him to intercede before his brother, so that he would forgive him and consort with him. “When he openly confesses Christ, everything betwixt us wilt be reconciled”, – answered the martyr Antonii. Once, serving the prince at the bath, Saint John spoke privately with him about his reconciliation with the Church. Ol’gerd did not display any anger and gave him to understand, that this was his personal matter and that he could believe in Christ, but conduct himself like all the pagans. Then Saint John confessed himself a Christian in the presence of numerous courtiers. They beat him fiercely with canes and dispatched him to his brother in prison. The martyrs met with joy in prison and on that day did partake of the Holy Mysteries.
A throng of the people approached the prison so as to view the new confessor. By their preaching the brothers converted many to Christ. The prison was transformed into a Christian teaching-place. The frightened pagan-priests demanded the execution of the brothers, but now already they did not fear temporal parting. On the morning of 14 April 1347 the Martyr Antonii after receiving the Holy Mysteries was hung on a tree. This oak, considered by the pagans as sacred, became from that time truly sacred for Orthodox Christians.
The hopes of the pagan priests, that with the death of Saint Antonii the preaching about Christ would stop, were not justified. A multitude of the people as before gathered at the walls of the prison, where Saint John was situated. On 24 April 1347 they strangled and hung him dead upon the same oak. The venerable bodies of both martyrs were buried by Christians in a church of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker.
A third sufferer for faith in Christ was Kruglets. At Baptism the priest Nestor gave him the name Eustathii. He was a relative of the holy brothers. Within the retinue of the GreatPrince of Lithuania, Kruglets stood out by his comeliness, valour and bravery, but even moreso in mind and virtue of soul. A favourite of Ol’gerd, he could count on an excellent future. But one time he also like the martyred brothers refused to eat meat at the festal table. Saint Eustathii openly declared, that he was a Christian and would not eat meat because of the Nativity fast. Hereupon they began to beat him with iron rods, but the youth let out not a groan. The prince tried refining the torture. There was a bitter frost. Ol’gerd gave orders to strip the martyr naked, take him out on the street and to pour icy water in his mouth. But this did not break the spirit of the saint. Then they broke his ankle-bones, and tore off from his head the hair with the skin and cut off his ears and nose. Saint Eustathii endured the torments with such gladness and courage, that the very torturers themselves were astounded by this Divine power, which strengthened him. After the torture the martyr Eustathii was sentenced to death and hung on that oak (+ 13 December 1347), where earlier Saints John and Antonii received a martyr’s death.
During the course of 3 days it was not permitted to take down the body of the martyr, and a column of cloud protected it from birds and beasts of prey. A church was afterwards built on the hill where the holy martyrs suffered. The trinity of venerable passion-bearers glorified the True God worshipped in the Holy Trinity, Father and Son and Holy Spirit – wherefore the church was consecrated in the Name of the MostHoly Trinity. The prestol' (altar-table) was secured on the base of the sacred oak, on which the martyrs accepted death. Soon their relics were uncovered undecayed. Already in the year 1364 the Constantinople Patriarch Philotheos (1354-1355, 1362-1376) sent to the Monk Sergei of Radonezh (+ 1392, Comm. 25 September) a cross with the relics of the holy martyrs. The Church established the celebration of memory of all three martyrs on a single day, 14 April.
The act of the holy martyrs held immense significance for all the Western frontier. Vilensk monastery in the Name of the Holy Trinity, at which the holy relics are kept, became a stronghold of Orthodoxy and peace on this frontier. In the year 1915 during the invasion of the Germans, these relics as very precious in the Baltic frontier were taken to the heart of Russia – Moscow.
Within the memory of believers at Vilnius and to this day there live sorrowful recollections about parting from the holy martyrs and joyful memories – about the solemn meeting of the relics of the holy passion-bearers in 1946 at the Vilensk Holy-Spirit monastery. The date of their return – 13 (26) July – from that time is solemnly noted annually at the monastery.
The Holy Martyr Ardalion accepted death for Christ under the emperor Maximian Galerius (305-311). Saint Ardalion was a talented mimic actor.
One time at the circus he played the rolé of a christian. The actor, on the intent of the play-author, was to at first refuse to offer sacrifice to idols, but later to consent to renounce Christ. Along the course of the action they suspended him upon a wooden torture device and tore at him with iron hooks. He so naturally depicted the suffering, that the spectators were delighted and loudly declared their praise of his artistry. Suddenly the saint ordered all to be quiet and declared, that he actually was a Christian and did not renounce the Lord. The governor of the city tried to explain the matter thus, that Saint Ardalion was continuing to play the rolé, and at the end of the show he would renounce Christ and offer sacrifice to the gods. But Saint Ardalion continued to confess his faith in Christ. Then the governor gave orders to throw the martyr onto a red-hot iron-pan. Thus did Saint Ardalion merit a martyr’s crown.
The Holy Martyr Christophoros Savvaites was murdered by Saracens in the VIII Century in Palestine.
The Vilensk Icon of the Mother of God was written by the holy Evangelist Luke. For a long time it was in the family of the Greek emperors at Constantinople. In 1472 Sophia Paleologa, spouse of the Moscow GreatPrince Ivan III (1462-1505), transferred the icon to Moscow. In 1495 the GreatPrince blessed his daughter Elena with this icon before giving her in marriage to the Lithuanian king Alexander. In honour of the transfer of the icon to Vilna a feast was established 15 February. Later on they placed the holy icon in the John the ForeRunner church, in which princess Elena was buried. And afterwards they transferred the icon to the Vilensk Holy-Trinity monastery.
© 1999 by translator Fr. S. Janos