March 15 2020 - March 02 2020
PriestMartyr Theodotos, Bishop of Kyreneia (+ c. 326).
Martyress Euthalia (+ 257). Martyrs Troades (III); Ilarion; Kodratos. Holy 440 Italian Martyrs (+ 579). PriestMartyr Athenodoros, Bishop. Saint Joseph. Monk Agathon of Egypt (+ c. 435).
Sainted Arsenii, Bishop of Tver' (+ 1409). Monk Savvatii (+ c. 1434) and his disciple the Monk Evphrosyn (+ c. 1460) of Tver'. Monks Varsonophii (+ c. 1459) and Savva (+ c. 1467) of Tver'.
Icon of the Mother of God, named “The Powerful”.
The PriestMartyr Theodotos, a native of Galatia in Asia Minor, was bishop of the city of Kyreneia in Cyprus. During a time of persecution against christians under the impious emperor Licinius (307-324), Saint Theodotos openly preached Christ, calling on the pagans to abandon idol-worship and turn to the True God. The governor of Cyprus Sabinus gave orders to arrest and bring bishop Theodotos to trial. Having found out about this order, the saint did not wait for the soldiers sent after him, but instead immediately went to the governor with the words: “I am here, whom thou seekest; I have shown myself, so as to preach Christ my God”. The governor gave orders for the saint to be beaten without mercy, hung up upon a tree and be dealt with by sharp implements, and then be taken to prison. After five days Saint Theodotos was again brought to the governor, who presumed that the bishop would prefer after his tortures to renounce Christ, rather than endure new sufferings. But Saint Theodotos did not cease to preach about Christ. At first they put the saint on an iron grate, under which they set a bon-fire, and then hammered nails into his feet and let him go. Many witnessed the sufferings of the martyr: astonished at the endurance of the saint and his Divinely-inspired speaking, they came to believe in Christ. Learning of this, Sabinus gave orders to stop the torture and lock up the saint in prison.
During the time of Saint Constantine the Great (Comm. 21 May), the freedom to confess their faith was given to all christians, and among the sufferers set free from prison was also Saint Theodotos. The saint returned to Kyreneia and after two years serving as bishop he peacefully expired to the Lord in about the year 326.
The Holy Martyress Euthalia lived with her mother and brother in the city of Leontina on the island of Sicily. The mother of Euthalia, a pagan, was grievously ill a long while. One time there appeared to her in a dream the Martyrs Alphius, Philadelphus and Cyprian (Comm. 10 May) who told her she would be healed if she believed in Christ. Accepting Baptism together with her daughter, the mother was healed from her infirmity. But Euthalia’s pagan brother Sirmianus, having learned of the baptising of his kin, went into a violent rage. The mother succeeded in fleeing, but Saint Euthalia confessed herself a Christian and accepted a martyr’s death. After fiercesome torture the saint was beheaded with a sword.
The Holy Martyr Troades suffered for Christ in Pontine Neocaesarea under the emperor Decius (249-251), having endured terrible tortures. Saint Gregory of Neocaesarea (Comm. 17 November) witnessed his sufferings, having foretold his martyr’s exploit.
The Monk Agathon of Egypt, a contemporary of the Monk Makarios the Great (Comm. 19 January), pursued asceticism in a skete monastery in Egypt. He was distinguished by an especial meekness, accounting himself most sinful among men. One time monks from afar came to the monk Agathon for spiritual talk and asked him: “Art thou Father Agathon?” “Ye see before you a sinful servant of God”, – answered the monk. “It is rumoured, that thou art a man proud and intemperate”, – replied the monks. “Completely true”, agreed the saint. “We have heard also, that thou art a liar that loveth to gossip about others”. “This also is true”, – assented Saint Agathon. “They say moreover, that thou art an heretic?” – the monks persisted, but immediately they met with an objection: “In vain, I am not an heretic”. When they asked the monk why, having accepted upon himself other vices, that he refused this last one, the saint explained: “These vices it is impossible not to ascribe to myself, since every man by his nature falls into sin, and all of us, through the corruption of our nature, are involuntarily captivated by vices; but heresy is apostacy from God, a deliberate renunciation of the True God”.
To the question about which ascetic deeds are more important for salvation, the external or the inner, the monk Agathon answered: “A man is like a tree; the outer or bodily concerns itself with leaves, whereas the inner soul grows fruit. But just as Holy Scripture asserts, that “every tree which does not bear good fruit, shalt be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Mt 3: 10), so then it is evident from this, that the greater attention ought to concern the fruit. But a tree also has need for its leaves, so as to sustain the life-bearing sap and by the shade of its leaves offer protection to the tree and its fruit from the desiccating heat”.
The monk Agathon died in about the year 435. For three days before his end the monk sat in silence and concentration, as though disturbed about something. To the perplexed questioning of the monks he answered, that he saw himself at the Judgement in front of Christ. “How is it possible that thou, father, should fear judgement?” – they asked him. “I through my strength have kept the commandments of the Lord, but as a man how might I be certain, that my deeds have been pleasing to God?”. “Dost thou not trust that thy good deeds which thou hast accomplished, are pleasing to God?” – asked the monks. “I have no hope until such time as I see God. Human judgement is one thing, but Divine judgement is another matter”. Having said this, the saint expired to the Lord.
[Trans. Note: “Agathon” in Greek means “Good”, just as also “Makarios” means “Blessed”; – there is a didactic thread woven into the fabric of many of the Saints vitae teaching this or that moral point or insight. Thus, whether or not Saint Agathon started monastically with such a name is less relevant than having finished with it. The opening dialogue with the monks from afar takes on a deeper dimension when set in perspective of: “Art thou Brother Good”, – “Ye see before you a sinner” “guilty of all the sins ye allege and more” “but God forbid, no heretic!"].
Italian Martyrs – 440 Men – refused to participate in idol-worship and were hewn apart by the Langobardi / Lombards (a Germanic tribe) in the year 579. Among those that perished, there are known by name the presbyter Sanctulus and the hermit Hospicius.
Sainted Arsenii, Bishop of Tver', was born at Tver', and in his early years took monastic vows in the Kievo-Pechersk monastery. Even among the monks of this ancient monastery, distinguished for their piety, Arsenii was noted for his saintly life – a strict keeping of the monastic vows, a knowledge of the Church ustav, the study of Holy Scripture, and a love for work. Under the Kiev metropolitan Kyprian (1380-1382) he served as archdeacon, and during times of the metropolitan’s absence he governed the working of the Kiev metropolitanate. On 3 July 1390 he went together with Metropolitan Kyprian to Tver', where at the request of the Tver' prince Mikhail Aleksandrovich there had been convened a Sobor of Russian and Greek hierarchs for judgement upon the Tver' bishop Evphymii. The prince and the bishop were in a lengthy quarrel, and many of the Tver' people had serious accusations against the Tver' bishop. After unsuccessful attempts to restore peace to the Tver' church, Metropolitan Kyprian “removed from the episcopacy” Evphymii and sent him off to Moscow to the Chudov monastery. Saint Arsenii was appointed to the Tver' cathedra. But he, “fearful to accept the authority at Tver', in view of the much enmity and spite there, was both troubled and terrified”. Upon the return of Metropolitan Kyprian and archdeacon Arsenii to Moscow, the Tver' prince sent his boyars with a petition to the metropolitan concerning ordination of Arsenii to the Tver' cathedra. This time also Arsenii was not agreeable. In the words of the chronicle for the year 1390 “hardly even by the metropolitan’s entreaty would archdeacon Arsenii be at Tver'”. Under the threat of cathedral suspension metropolitan and prince finally received his assent to the ordination, which was done 15 August 1390. Among the bishops taking part in the laying on of hands was Sainted Stephen, Bishop of Perm (Comm. 26 April).
Having come upon the cathedra, Bishop Arsenii, as a man of great prayer and peace-maker, was able to stop much of the discord in the Tver' principality. During his episcopacy, from 1390 to 1409, there were built and consecrated cathedrals in honour of the Archangel Michael at Staritsa and Mikulina, and the Saviour-Transfiguration cathedral was restored with the putting up of a cathedral bell-tower. The saint founded on the river T’maka near Tver' the Zheltikov monastery, where in similitude to the Kievo-Pechersk monastery was built a church in the names of the Monks Antonii and Theodosii of Pechersk (1394), and a stone Uspenie cathedral.
Desiring that the monks of this new monastery would always take edification from the asceticism of the Pechersk Fathers, Sainted Arsenii gave orders to compile a list from the Kievo-Pechersk Paterikon, offering the most ancient of redactions surviving into the present of this precious memorial of Russian literature, and receiving the name of the Arsen’ev Redaction.
The saint died on 2 March 1409, and was buried in the Zheltikov monastery of the Uspenie / Dormition of the MostHoly Mother of God, which he founded. In 1483 his relics were found undecayed and placed in the monastery cathedral. In the same year priest-monk Feodosii wrote the Life and a Kanon of the Sainted-bishop. At a Sobor of 1547 was established the celebration of Sainted Arsenii throughout all the Church.
The Monks Varsonophii and Savva of Tver' were hegumens of the Savvino Sretenie / Visitation monastery, organised in the year 1397 not far from Tver'. The Savvino monastery was known as such from the name of its founder or for the church in the name of the Monk Savva the Sanctified, and Sretensk – for the chief temple of the monastery – named for the Sretenie / Meeting of the Lord.
The monk Varsonophii, older brother of Blessed Savva, was made head of the monastery by the Monk-hegumen Savva of Vishersk (Comm. 1 October), who set off on pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain. After five years of monastic rule the monk Varsonophii set off into the wilderness, having transferred the hegumenate to his brother the monk Savva; – he commanded him to accept the priestly dignity, since “he was pure as from his mother’s womb and worthy of such grace”. The monk Varsonophii dwelt for forty years in solitude and “during all these years, – testifies the Monk Joseph of Volokolamsk, – he did nothing else than to pray, to sing and to read books. He took books about the love of Christ and after reading he returned them or took them to another place. The blessed one had nothing, not even coppers of money, since he loved poverty and non-covetousness. After long attentiveness to self, and by silence, prayer, and the reading of holy books – he was vouchsafed such grace, that he memorised all the Holy Scripture by heart and freely communicated it upon demand. There came to him from everywhere many monks and worldly people of noble birth, some for the good of their soul, others – needing an explanation from something in Scripture. Even the Metropolitan of All Russia Photii at times sent off to him a request to furnish explanation to some misunderstood saying of Holy Scripture, about which there was some dispute”.
It happened, that when one of the brethren was seduced by the devil he decided to snatch books from the monk’s cell, and he fell down dead on the pathway with the books on his bosom. Only by the grace of the prayers of Saint Varsonophii was the unfortunate one resuscitated, and afterwards until the end of his days he worthily pursued asceticism in the monastery.
Having attained to an extreme old age, the monk Varsonophii returned to the monastery and to his brother the monk Savva. The Monk Joseph of Volokolamsk (Comm. 9 September) witnesses to the spiritual strictness of the monk Savva: “We have beheld blessed Savva, who headed the Savvino monastery in the vicinity of Tver' for more than 50 years. He so concerned himself about his flock, that he stood always at the church doors with staff in hand. If some one of the brethren did not come to church for the beginning of the service, or left before the dismissal, or chatted during the time of singing, or flittered about from his own place to another, then the monk Savva would not remain silent about it, but rather prohibited it, such that he did not let the matter drop without concern even in the small short-comings… When it was necessary, he would be strict, and when there was need, he would be kindly”. During the time of a terrible epidemic in these years it happened that at the monastery all the other priests died. The monk Savva made visits, heard confessions, communed the sick and himself buried the dead. Therein was manifest the great strength of grace of the holy ascetic. In the words of the monk Joseph, “when blessed Savva was visiting the sick and hearing confession, one of the brethren came and said, that someone was dying and needed to confess, the blessed one answered: go, brother, and tell the dying that he shall not die but rather wait for my visit. And just as the brother told this to the dying one, he stood up all better; when however Blessed Savva gave him the Holy Mysteries of Christ, then the brother died. And this happened not once or twice, but a number of times”.
“When Blessed Savva and saint Varsonophii were alive, – relates the monk Joseph of Volotsk, – in the monastery under their guidance all was decorum, quiet and peaceful. If someone showed himself to be stubborn or ill-tempered, they would not permit him to have his way. When Blessed Savva died, Saint Varsonophii and the other fathers – zealous to preserve the traditions of the fathers – selected an hegumen from another monastery, and this one started to live not according to the ustav / rule of this monastery and not according to the tradition of these holy elders: their tradition was such, that no one either ate or drank differently from the common refectory, that no one would leave the monastery without blessing, that young lads would not live in cells or in the courtyard, and that women would not enter the monastery. And in general this was observed throughout the place according to the ustav. But the new hegumen, having come from elsewhere, made a mess of all this and passed it by without concern. Some while later Saint Savva appeared to him in a dream and said: “Wretch! Why art thou not in the least concerned about the monastery’s welfare and piety, but rather neglectful and disregarding of this?” And his staff was enough, such that this one was not able to rise up from his bed. When he recovered and set straight the mess, then already he no longer smiled to govern the monastery, and soon he returned thither from whence he had come”. Thus even after his death the monk Savva watched over his monastery. The monk Savva died in about the year 1467, somewhat earlier than his saintly brother.
The Monk Savvatii of Tver' pursued asceticism with the blessing of Sainted Arsenii, Bishop of Tver', at a distance 15 versts from Tver'. The monk Savvatii established a monastery there, known for the strictness and holiness of its rule. To it came to learn monastic activity such ascetics as the Monk Joseph of Volotsk (Comm. 9 September) and the Monk Kornilii of Komel’sk (Comm. 19 May). The chains, found in the cave where Saint Savvatii practised silence, testify to his ascetic deeds. He died not later than the year 1434.
The Monk Evphrosyn was a student and the successor to the Monk Savvatii in governing the Savvat’ev wilderness monastery. During his time as hegumen there came to the monastery the Monk Joseph of Volotsk, who wrote about his visit as follows: “I beheld in the Savvat’ev wilderness an holy hermit-elder, by the name of Evphrosyn. He was born of the princes of Teprinsk. He dwelt precariously in the wilderness for 60 years. Many monks came to him for advice, as well as princes and boyars / nobles, disrupting his silence. He then fled human conversation to Great Novgorod, to lake Nevo (Ladozhskoe or Ladoga), found an island and dwelt there for several years. The surrounding inhabitants, hearing about the ascetic, began to throng to him with their wives and children, and he was again obliged to hide himself, just as at the Savvat’ev wilderness. The ruler of this land – prince Boris Aleksandrovich – sent his own daughter to him, then betrothed to marry GreatPrince Ivan Vasil’evich. With her came archimandrites, hegumens and boyars, and they began to ask of blessed Evphrosyn that he help the maiden: she was very sickly, and they brought her to blessed Evphrosyn in the wilderness by carrying her. He refused them, calling himself a sinner and unworthy. They entreated the saint with tears, saying: “If she remains alive through thy prayers, then thou wilt bring peace, father, to two principalities”.
Seeing that the maiden had fallen into a serious illness, the monk Evphrosyn gave orders for her to be taken to church, and he himself began to pray with tears and sobbing in front of the icon of the MostHoly Mother of God. Then he commanded to be sung a molieben to the MostHoly Mother of God and to the great Wonderworker Nicholas. When the molieben was finished, the maiden opened up her eyes and sat; those carrying her raised her up healthy and that very day notified her father, who praised God “for having bestown grace through His servants”. The Monk Evphrosyn died peacefully in about the year 1460.
The Icon of the Mother of God, named “The Powerful”, appeared on 2 March 1917 in the village of Kolomensk near Moscow. A service and akathist to it were composed with the assistance of His Holiness Sainted Patriarch Tikhon (+ 1925. Comm. 25 March, 26 September, Sunday following 25 January; glorified 1989).
© 1999 by translator Fr. S. Janos