Orthodox River


April 12 2020 - March 30 2020

Prophet Joad (X Cent. BC). Disciples of 70 – Sosthenes, Apollos, Cephas, Caesarius and Epaphrodites (I). Monk John of the Ladder (Lestvichnik; Klimatikos; Climaticus) (+ 649).

Sainted Sophronii, Bishop of Irkutsk (+ 1771). Saint Eubola, Mother of the GreatMartyr Panteleimon (+ c. 303). Monk John the Silent (VI). Sainted john, Patriarch of Jerusalem. Monk Zosima, Bishop of Syracuse (+ c. 662). PriestMartyr Zacharias, Bishop of Corinth (+ 1684). Sainted Sava. Martyr Persides.

The Holy Prophet Joad came from Samaria and prophesied during the X Century before the Birth of Christ. It gives an account about him in the 13th Chapter of Book 3 of Kings. The prophet was sent by the Lord from Judea to Bethel to denounce the Israelite king Jereboam for polluting his nation with idol-worship. The Lord commanded the prophet: “There neither eat bread nor drink water, nor return upon thine path, whereof thou comest” (3 Kings 13: 9). The prophet Joad appeared to king Jereboam and prophesied to him concerning the wrath of the Lord. When the king tried to give a signal with his hand to seize hold of the prophet, his hand suddenly became withered. The king entreated the prophet to pray to the Lord for the healing of his hand, and through the prayer he received healing. Having turned back, the prophet Joad disobeyed the command given him by the Lord, and he tasted of the food put before him by the false-prophet Emba. Because of this the prophet Joad was killed by a lion, but his body remained untouched and was buried near the abode of the false-prophet who led him astray.

The Holy Disciples from the 70: Sosthenes, Apollos, Cephas, Caesarius and Epaphrodites: The Disciple Sosthenes before his conversion was head of the Corinthian synagogue. The Apostle Paul converted him to Christianity and made him his helper in his work. In addressing the Corinthian Church, the apostle Paul sent greetings to it from both of them: “Paul, by the will of God called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, and brother Sosthenes…” (1 Cor 1: 1). Afterwards, the holy disciple Sosthenes was made bishop at Colophon (Asia Minor).

In the Acts of the holy Apostles it tells the following about the holy Disciple Apollos: “A certain Jew, by the name of Apollos, born at Alexandria, eloquent and conversant with Scripture, came to Ephesus. He was instructed in the fundamentals of the way of the Lord and, being fervent of spirit, he spoke and taught about the Lord rightly, knowing only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. Hearing him, Aquila and Priscilla took him and more precisely explained to him the way of the Lord. And when he resolved to go to Achaeia, the brethren then wrote to the disciples of that place, urging them to receive him; and he, having come thither, much assisted those believing by grace, since he powerfully confuted the Jews in public, shewing by the Scriptures, that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 18: 24-28). Saint Apollos much assisted the Apostle Paul. The Apostle Paul speaks thus about the spread of Christianity among the Corinthians: “I sowed, Apollos watered, but God did grow it” (1 Cor 3: 6). Saint Apollos was later bishop at Smyrna (Asia Minor).

The holy Disciple Cephas was according to tradition bishop at Iconium. Accounts about him have not been preserved. It is presumed, that it is about him that the Apostle Paul makes mention (1 Cor 15: 5).

The holy Disciple Epaphrodites was a companion of the Apostle Paul who, having sent him to the Philippian christians, speaks thus about his own hard work on the field of Christ: “…I am honoured to send you of necessity Epaphrodites, my brother and co-worker and companion, your messenger and servant in my need… he was sick nigh to death; but God had mercy on him, and not only him but also me, so as not to add sorrow upon sorrow for me… Accept him in the Lord with all joy, and so hold him in esteem, since for the work of Christ was near death, subjecting life to peril, so as to make up the insufficiency of your service to me” (Phil 2: 25-30). Saint Epaphrodites was bishop at Adrianium (Italy). The commemoration of these holy disciples is also [8 December] and contained as well in the Sobor / Assemblage of the 70 Disciples on 4 January.

The Monk John of the Ladder (Lestvichnik; Klimatikos; Climaticus) is honoured by Holy Church as a great ascetic and author of the reknown spiritual work called “The Ladder”, whereby the monk likewise received the title “of-the-Ladder” [Lestvichnik (Slav.); Klimatikos (Grk.); Climaticus (Lat.)].

About the origins of the monk John there is almost no account preserved. Tradition suggests, that he was born about the year 570, and was the son of Saints Xenophones and Maria, – whose is celebrated by the Church on 26 January. The sixteen year old lad John arrived at the Sinai monastery. Abba Martyrios became instructor and guide of the monk. After four years of living on Sinai, Saint John Lestvichnik was vowed into monasticism. One of those present at the taking of vows, – Abba Stratigios, predicted, that he was set to become a great luminary in the Church of Christ. Over the course of 19 years the monk John pursued asceticism in obedience to his spiritual father. After the death of abba Martyrios the monk John chose an hermit’s life, settling into a wild place called Tholos, where he spent 40 years in deeds of silence, fasting, prayer and tears of penitence. It is not by chance that in “The Ladder” the monk John speaks thus about tears of repentance: “Just as fire burns and destroys firewood, so thus do pure tears wash away all impurity, both outer and inner”. His holy prayer was strong and efficacious, as evidenced from an example from the life of the God-pleasing saint.

The Monk John had a student, the monk Moses. One time the instructor ordered his student to bring ground to the garden for bedding. Having fulfilled the obedience, the monk Moses lay down to rest under the shade of a large rock, because of the strong heat of summer. The monk John Lestvichnik was at this time in his cell resting after a prayerful labour. Suddenly a man of remarkable appearance appeared to him and, having roused the holy ascetic, said to him in reproach: “Why dost thou, John, rest peacefully here, when Moses is in danger?” The monk John immediately woke up and began to pray for his student. When his disciple returned in the evening, the monk asked, whether some sort of woe had befallen him. The monk answered: “No, but I was exposed to great danger. A large fragment of stone, having broken off from the rock under which I had fallen asleep at mid-day, just barely missed me. By luck, I had a dream that thou wast calling me, and I woke up and started to run off, and at that very moment the huge stone fell with a crash on that very spot, from which I had fled…”

About the manner of life of the monk John is known, that he nourished himself by such as what is not prohibited a fasting life by the ustav, but – in moderation. He did not spend the night without sleep, although he slept not much, only as much as was necessary for keeping up his strength, so that by an unceasing vigilance he would not destroy the mind. “I do not fast excessively, – said he about himself, – nor do I give myself over to intense all-night vigil, nor lay upon the ground, but restrain myself…, and the Lord soon saved me”. The following example of humility of the monk John Lestvichnik is noteworthy. Gifted with a deeply penetrating mind, and having become wise by profound spiritual experience, he lovingly received all who came to him so as to guide them to salvation. But when there appeared some who through envy reproached him with loquacity, which they explained away as vanity, the monk John then gave himself over to silence so as not to give cause for blame, and he kept silence for the space of a year. The envious realised their error and they themselves returned to the ascetic with the request not to deprive them of the spiritual profit of his conversation.

Concealing his ascetic deeds from people, the monk John sometimes withdrew into a cave, but accounts of his holiness spread far beyond the locality: incessantly there came to him visitors from every rank and calling, wanting to hear his words of edification and salvation. At age 75, after forty years of ascetic striving in solitude, the monk was chosen as hegumen of the Sinai monastery. For about four years the monk John Lestvichnik governed the holy Sinai monastery. Towards the end of his life, the Lord granted the monk grace-bearing gifts of perspicacity and wonderworking.

During the time of his governing the monastery, – at the request of the hegumen of the Raipha monastery Saint John (Comm. on Cheesefare Saturday), there was written for the monks the reknown “Ladder”, – an instruction for rising to spiritual perfection. Knowing about the wisdom and spiritual gifts of the monk, the Raipha hegumen on behalf of all the monks of his monastery requested him to write down for them “a true instruction for those following after invariably, and as such would be a ladder of affirmation, which would lead those wishing it to the Heavenly gates…” The monk John, noted for his humble opinion about himself, was at first perplexed, but afterwards out of obedience he set about fulfilling the request of the Raipha monks. The monk thus also named his work – “The Ladder”, and explained the title in the following manner: “I have constructed a ladder of ascent… from the earthly to the holy… in the form of the thirty years of age for the Lord’s maturity, symbolically I have constructed a ladder of 30 steps, by which, having attained the Lord’s age, we find ourselves with the righteous and secure from falling down”. The purpose of this work, is to teach – that the reaching of salvation requires difficult self-denial and demanding ascetic deeds. “The Ladder” presupposes, first, a cleansing from the impurity of sin, the eradication of vices and passions in the old man; second, the restoration in man of the image of God. Although the book was written for monks, any christian living in the world receives from it the hope of guidance for ascent to God, and a support for spiritual life. The Monks Theodore the Studite (Comm. 11 November and 26 January), Sergei of Radonezh (Comm. 25 September and 5 July), Joseph of Volokolamsk (Comm. 9 September and 18 October), and others – in their instructions relied on “The Ladder” as an important book for salvific guidance.

The content of one of the steps of “The Ladder” (the 22nd) discusses the ascetic deed of the destruction of vainglory. The monk John writes: “Vanity springs out in front of each virtue. When, for example, I keep a fast – I am given over to vanity, and when I in concealing the fasting from others permit myself food, I am again given over to vanity – by my prudence. Dressing up in bright clothing, I am vanquished by love of honour and, having changed over into drab clothing – I am overcome by vanity. If I stand up to speak – I fall under the power of vanity. If I wish to keep silence, I am again given over to it. Wherever this thorn comes up, it everywhere stands with its points upwards. It is vainglorious…, on the surface to honour God, and in deed to strive to please people rather than God… People of lofty spirit bear insult placidly and willingly, but to hear praise and feel nothing of pleasure is possible only for the saints and for the unblameworthy… When thou hearest, that thy neighbour or friend either afront the eyes or behind the eyes slandereth thee, praise and love him… Does this not shew humility, and who can reproach himself, and be intolerant with himself? But who, having been discredited by another, would not diminish in his love for him… Whoever is exalted by natural gifts – a felicitous mind, a fine education, reading, pleasant elocution and other similar qualities, which are readily enough acquired, that person might yet never obtain to supernatural gifts. Wherefore whoever is not faithful in the small things, that one also is not faithful in the large, and is vainglorous. It often happens, that God Himself humbles the vainglorious, sending a sudden misfortune… If prayer does not destroy a proud thought, we bring to mind the leaving of the soul from this life. And if this does not help, we threaten it with the shame of the Last Judgement. “Rising up to humble oneself” even here, before the future age. When praisers, or better – flatterers, start to praise us, immediately we betake ourselves to recollection of all our iniquities and we find, that we are not at all worth that which they impute to us”.

This and other examples, located in “The Ladder”, offer us an image of this saint’s zealousness about his own salvation, which is necessary for each person who wishes to live piously. It is a written account of his thought, the collective fruit of many and also of his refined observation from his own soul and his own profound spiritual experience. It reveals itself as a guide and great help on the way to truth and good.

The steps of “The Ladder” – this proceeding from strength to strength on the path of man’s proclivity to perfection, is not something suddenly but rather gradually to be reached, as in the saying of the Saviour: “The Kingdom of Heaven is taken by strength, and those utilising strength shalt delight of it” (Mt 11: 12).

Sainted Sophronii, Bishop of Irkutsk and WonderWorker of all Siberia, known under the family-name Kristalevsky, was born in Malorussia in the Chernigov region in 1704. His father, Nazarii Fedorovich, was “a common man in his affairs, and Sophronii they named Stefan”, in honour of the first-martyr archdeacon Stephen. He had two brothers and a sister Pelagia. The name of one brother was Paul. The name of the other older brother is unknown, but there is an account, that he was afterwards head of the Krasnogorsk Zolotonoshsk monastery.

The childhood years of Stefan were spent in the settlement of Berezan’ in the Pereyaslavl’ district of the Poltava governance, where the family settled after the father’s discharge from service. When he came of age, Stefan entered the Kiev Theological Academy, where at the time studied two other future sainted-hierarchs – Joasaph, future bishop of Belgorod (Comm. 4 September and 10 December), and Paul, future metropolitan of Tobol’sk.

Having received a religious education, Stefan entered the Krasnogorsk Transfiguration monastery (afterwards changed to Pokrov / Protection monastery, and in 1789 transformed into a women’s monastery), where his elder brother already pursued ascetic life. On 23 April 1730 he took monastic vows with the name of Sophronii, – honour of Saint Sophronios, Patriarch of Jerusalem (Comm. 11 March).

On the night after his taking of monastic vows, the monk Sophronii heard a Voice in the Pokrov church: “When thou shalt become bishop, raise up a church in the name of All Saints”, – predicting of his future service. After two years, in 1732, they summoned him to Kiev, in the Sophia cathedral of which they ordained him to the dignity of monkdeacon, and then to priestmonk. Concerning the following period of the life of Saint Sophronii, it says the following in his service-form: “After having taken vows he was treasurer at that Zolotonoshsk monastery for two years, and then he was taken by decree of His Grace Arsenii Berlov of the Pereyaslavl’ diocese into the house of his archbishop, in which he was steward for 8 years subject to the Alexander Nevsky monastery, from which during the course of those years he was sent to Saint-Peterburg on hierarchical business, for which in advocacy he spent two years”.

These facts testify readily enough to the connections of the saint with his original Pokrovsk monastery. During his obedience under the presiding hierarch at Pereyaslavl’, he often visited at his monastery, spending the day in quiet contemplation and work, giving example in the making of a monastic brother.

During the time of priestmonk Sophronii’s sojourn on hierarchical business to the Synod, they showed particular attention to him. And when it became necessary to increase the brethren at the Alexander Nevsky monastery in Saint Peterburg, – 29 monks then in number having been summoned from various monasteries in Russia, in January 1742 was summoned also the future saint. A year later they appointed him treasurer of the monastery, and in 1746 he was appointed to the office of head of the monastery, which he fulfilled for seven years more.

For helping him he summoned his fellow countryman, a native of the city of Priluk, – the priestmonk Synesii, and made him the organiser of the Novo-Sergiev monastery, which was associated with the Alexander Nevsky monastery. From this period of time the friendship of the two ascetics, – priestmonk Sophronii and priestmonk Synesii – was strengthened into a single pastoral effort, and they were inseparable until their end in the Siberian land. During these years Saint Sophronii laboured much at the managing of the monastery and improvement of teaching at the seminary located near it. Together with Archbishop Theodosii he concerned himself with the needs of adding to the monastic library.

A two-level church was built by him: the top – in the name of Saint Theodore Yaroslavich, older brother of Saint Alexander Nevsky; and the lower – in the name of Saint John Chrysostom.

In 1747 the bishop of Irkutsk, Innokentii II (Nerunovich) died. For six years afterwards the territory of the Irkutsk diocese remained without a spiritual head.

Finally, the empress Elizaveta Petrovichna (1741-1761) by decree on 23 February 1753 recommended to the Holy Synod the pious head of the Alexander Nevsky monastery Sophronii, as “a person, not only worthy of bishop’s dignity, but also quite entirely able to fulfill the wishes and the hopes of the state and the Synod – to take up the burden of episcopal service on the far frontier and satisfy the needs of his flock in that harsh land, amidst wild primitives and lawless people”.

On 18 April 1753, Thomas Sunday, priestmonk Sophronii was ordained bishop of Irkutsk and Nerchinsk in the Great Uspensky cathedral.

Foreseeing difficult service on the distant Siberian frontier, the newly-established bishop did not immediately set off to the Irkutsk eparchy, but rather began to gather up educated and spiritually experienced co-workers. During this period Saint Sophronii visited at his original Krasnogorsk monastery. Also at the holy places of Kiev, he sought the blessings of the Kievo-Perchersk Saints for his service. The constant companion of the saint, just as before, was the priestmonk Synesii, ardently sharing in the life’s work of his friend.

At Moscow, the Archbishop of Moscow and Sevsk Platon, – who participated in the ordination of then priestmonk Sophronii, provided him further assistance. He taught him fatherly precepts for his impending task, since he was quite familiar with the peculiarities of the Siberian religious manner of life, he forewarned him about the self-willed local authorities, and advised him to gather together trustworthy helpers.

On 20 March 1754 the saint arrived at Irkutsk. He went at first to the Ascension monastery – the place of residence of his predecessor, and prayed at the grave of bishop Innokentii (Kul’chitz), imploring his blessing on his impending task.

Having familiarised himself with the state of affairs in the diocese, the saint set about the re-organisation of the Spiritual consistory, monasteries and parishes, and turned to the Holy Synod with an appeal to dispatch worthy people for priestly service to the Irkutsk eparchy.

Before the arrival of Sainted Sophronii, the Irkutsk monasteries had already a century-old history. The founders of these monasteries were motivated by a fervent desire for ascetic monastic life. The sagacious sainted-bishop appointed as heads of the monastic communities people of piety, wisdom, virtue, and with great experience both of life and things spiritual. In 1754 His Grace Sophronii raised up his friend and companion priestmonk Synesii to be archimandrite of Ascension monastery. This memorable monastic head served the monastery for thirty-three years until his blessed end. In September 1754 the sainted-bishop issued an ukaz (decree), in which concern was noted for the education and upbringing of the children of clergy. By his ukaz to the clergy he considered as a duty the education of their children in the Chasoslov, the Psalter, singing and letters, and this instruction “ought to happen with all industriousness and extremest diligence, so that the children might be able to accomplish the responsibilities of sacristan and deacon according to their due ability”.

Studying closely both people and circumstances, the sainted-bishop in his sermons and conversations incessantly exhorted all to an higher moral ideal. He devoted particular attention to the reverent and correct doing of Divine-services and priestly Sacraments, and he also watched after the moral purity of laymen; he was concerned about the position of women in the family, and defended them against their unjust inequality. The sainted-bishop attempted everywhere to set straight the ustav (rule) of Divine-services, for which purpose he summoned to himself priests, deacons, sub-deacons and sacristans, who during the time of hierarchical Divine-services participated in the choir or sub-deacons.

Journeying about the diocese, the saint noted that not everywhere was the proper attention given to the ringing of bells and incensing, and therefore by means of ukaz he restored the proper censing and ringing of bells.

Called to apostolic service in this frontier region, Sainted Sophronii realised, that in addition to the enlightening of believing christians, it availed him to bring to the faith idol-worshippers, who were very numerous in Siberia.

To bring pagans to the Church of Christ was difficult, especially since from time to time there was no one to serve in churches, and to borrow for missionary activity made matters all the worse. Knowing how that the hierarchical Divine-services would have a salutary effect on non-Russians, the saint not only himself served with reverence, but also required it of all his clergy.

Sainted Sophronii concerned himself over the manner of life of the lesser nations and he contributed to the developement of a stable culture among the local people. He offered them monastic lands for settlements and in every way he endeavoured to isolate them from the influence of paganism. A throng of visitors constantly arrived and came from faraway places for a blessing.

But amidst his many cares, he did not forget about his inner spiritual life and eternity – he also led an ascetic life. There is preserved an account about this from the cell-attendant of Sainted Sophronii, which relates, that the saint “used food simple and in small quantity, he served quite often, spent the greater part of the night at prayer, slept on the floor under a sheepskin or if fur – a deerskin or bear hide, and a small simple pillow – this was all his bedding for a sleep of short duration”.

The spirit of his ascetic life fit in with the general uplift of the Christian spirit in Russia following the glorification of Sainted Dimitrii of Rostov (Comm. 21 September), Theodosii of Chernigov (Comm. 9 September), and in particular the uncovering of the undecayed relics of his predecessor – Sainted Innokentii of Irkutsk (Comm. 9 February). This event inspired Sainted Sophronii with greater strength and encouraged his hope for the help of Sainted Innokentii in his task of building up the diocese.

Until the end of his days Sainted Sophronii kept his love for the Krasnogorsk Zolotonoshsk monastery, which had nurtured him in the days of his youth. He constantly contributed support for its upkeep, sending off the necessary means for this.

Having sensed a deterioration in his health, Sainted Sophronii made a petition to the Synod to discharge him for rest. But they tarried with an answer from Peterburg, since it was difficult to immediately choose a worthy successor.

The final days in the life of Sainted Sophronii were spent in prayerful asceticism.

The light, which shone on the good deeds of Sainted Sophronii, continues to the present to testify to the glory of the Heavenly Father, “mercifully having strengthened His saints”. And now not only in Siberia at the place of his final deeds, but also at the place of his first deeds, there is reverently preserved the holy memory of Sainted Sophronii.

A second commemoration of Sainted Sophronii is made on 30 June (glorification, 1918).

Saint Eubola, Mother of the GreatMartyr Panteleimon (Comm. 27 July), died peacefully in about the year 303 before the martyrdom of her son.

The Monk John the Silent – Bishop of the city of Koloneia, was an exemplary example of a good Christian life for his flock. Persecuted by the governor, he was deprived of the archbishop’s cathedra and withdrew to the monastery of Saint Sava the Sanctified, where he was glorified in ascetic deeds of silence, prayer, and dwelling in the wilderness. The monk died at age 104 (+ 558).

Sainted Zosima, Bishop of Syracuse, was born through the fervent prayers of his parents, who were long without children. When their son reached seven years of age, his parents sent him for education to a monastery, where the holy ascetic at the age of maturity took monastic vows and for forty years governed the monastery. Pope Theodore (641-649) ordained him bishop of Syracuse.

Sainted Zosima distinguished himself by his charity and lack of avarice, and led his flock firmly by word and by example. Towards the end of his life Sainted Zosima fell grievously ill, but endured his suffering with magnanimity and humility. He died in about the year 662, after leading his flock for 13 years. Afterwards many of the sick received healing by a single touch to his tomb.

PriestMartyr Zacharias, Bishop of Corinth, suffered for Christ under the Turks in 1684. The Turk-mussulmans accused him of secret correspondence with the Franks (French), whom the saint supposedly would have appealed to and promised to aid them seize the city. The moslems in a rage fell upon the Christian bishop and, shackled in chains and subjected to beatings, they led him to trial. The judge without interrogation demanded that Sainted Zacharias accept Islam and, when he heard the negative answer of the bishop, he gave orders for him to be beaten without mercy. They then locked up the confessor of Christ in prison, where the mahometan fanatics did not cease with beating the martyr. The Priestmartyr Zacharias was beheaded on the third Sunday following the Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross.

© 1999 by translator Fr. S. Janos