Posts tagged ‘martyrdom’

Greatmartyr Eustathius Placidas with his wife and children, of Rome

The Holy Great Martyr Eustathius was named Placidas before his Baptism. He was a military commander under the emperors Titus (79-81) and Trajan (98-117). Even before he came to know Christ, Placidas performed acts of charity, helping the poor and destitute. Therefore, the Lord did not leave the virtuous pagan remain in the darkness of idolatry.

Once while hunting in a forest, he saw a stag which would stop now and then to look him right in the eye. Placidas pursued it on horseback, but could not catch up. The stag leaped over a chasm and stood on the other side facing him. Placidas suddenly saw a radiant Cross between its antlers. In surprise the military commander heard a voice coming from the Cross saying, “Why do you pursue Me, Placidas?”

“Who are You, Master?” asked Placidas.The Voice replied, “I am Jesus Christ, Whom you do not know, yet you honor Me by your good deeds. I have appeared here on this creature for your sake, to capture you in the net of My love for mankind. It is not fitting that one as righteous as you should worship idols and not know the truth. It was to save mankind that I came into the world.”

Placidas cried out, “Lord, I believe that You are the God of Heaven and earth, the Creator of all things. Master, teach me what I should do.” Again the Lord replied, “Go to the bishop of your country and receive Baptism from him, and he will instruct you.”

Placidas returned home and joyfully recounted everything to his wife Tatiana. She in turn told him how the evening before, in a mysterious dream, she had been told, “Tomorrow you, your husband and your sons shall come to Me and know that I am the true God. The spouses then proceeded to do as they had been bidden.

They hastened to the Christian bishop, who baptized all their family, and communed them with the Holy Mysteries. Placidas was renamed Eustathius, his wife was called Theopiste, and their children, Agapius and Theopistus.

On the following day, St Eustathius set out to the place of his miraculous conversion and in fervent prayer he offered up thanks to the Lord for having called him onto the path of salvation.

Again St Eustathius received a miraculous revelation. The Lord Himself foretold his impending tribulations: “Eustathius, you shall suffer many misfortunes, as did Job, but in the end you will conquer the devil.”

Soon St Eustathius was plunged into misfortune: all his servants died of the plague and his cattle perished. Brought to ruin, but not despairing in spirit, St Eustathius and his family secretly abandoned their home, to live unknown, humble and in poverty.

They went to Egypt to board a ship sailing for Jerusalem. During the voyage a new woe beset the saint. The ship owner, enchanted by Theopiste’s beauty, cruelly set Eustathius and his children ashore, keeping the wife for himself.

In great sorrow the saint continued on his way, and new woe beset him. Coming to a tempestuous river, he went to carry his two sons across in turn. When he had brought one across, the other was seized by a lion and carried off into the wilderness. As he turned back towards the other, a wolf dragged that child into the forest.

Having lost everything, St Eustathius wept bitterly, but he realized that Divine Providence had sent him these misfortunes to test his endurance and devotion to God. In his inconsolable grief, St Eustathius went on farther, prepared for new tribulations.

In the village of Badessos he found work and spent five years in unremitting toil. St Eustathius did not know then that through the mercy of God, shepherds and farmers had saved his sons, and they lived right near him. He also did not know that the impudent shipowner had been struck down with a terrible disease and died, leaving St Theopiste untouched. She lived in peace and freedom at the place where the ship landed.

During this time it had become difficult for the emperor Trajan to raise an army for Rome to deal with a rebellion, for the soldiers would not go into battle without their commander Placidas. They advised Trajan to send men out to all the cities to look for him.

Antiochus and Acacius, friends of Placidas, sought him in various places. Finally, they arrived in the village where St Eustathius lived. The soldiers found Eustathius, but they did not recognize him and they began to tell him of the one whom they sought, asking his help and promising a large reward. St Eustathius, immediately recognized his friends, but did not reveal his identity to them.

He borrowed money from one of his friends and fed the visitors. As they looked at him, the travellers noted that he resembled their former commander. When they saw a scar on his shoulder from a deep sword-wound, they realized that it was their friend there before them. They embraced him with tears and told him why they were seeking him.

St Eustathius returned to Rome with them and again became a general. Many new recruits were drafted into the army from all over the empire. He did not know that two young soldiers who served him, and whom he loved for their skill and daring, were actually his own sons. They did not know that they were serving under the command of their own father, nor that they were brothers by birth.

While on campaign, the army led by Eustathius halted at a certain settlement. The soldier-brothers were talking in their tent. The elder one spoke about his life, how he had lost his mother and brother, and how in a terrifying way he had been parted from his father. The younger brother then realized that before him was his very own brother, and told him how he had been rescued from the wolf.

A woman overheard the soldiers’ conversation, since their tent was pitched right next to her house, and this woman realized that these were her sons. Still not identifying herself to them, but not wanting to be separated from them, she went to their commander, St Eustathius, to ask him to take her to Rome with him. She said she had been a prisoner, and wanted to go home. Then she came to recognize the commander as her husband, and with tears she told him about herself and about the two soldiers who were actually their sons. Thus, through the great mercy of the Lord, the whole family was happily reunited.

Soon thereafter the rebellion was crushed, and St Eustathius returned to Rome with honor and glory. The emperor Trajan had since died, and his successor Hadrian (117-138) wanted to celebrate the event of victory with a solemn offering of sacrifice to the gods. To the astonishment of everyone, St Eustathius did not show up at the pagan temple. By order of the emperor they searched frantically for him.

“Why don’t you want to worship the gods?” the emperor inquired. “You, above all others, ought to offer thanks to them. They not only preserved you in war and granted you victory, but also they helped you find your wife and children.” St Eustathius replied: “I am a Christian and I glorify and give thanks to Him, and I offer sacrifice to Him. I owe my life to Him. I do not know or believe in any other god than Him.”

In a rage, the emperor ordered him to take off his military belt and brought him and his family before him. They did not succeed in persuading the steadfast confessors of Christ to offer sacrifice to idols. The whole family of St Eustathius was sentenced to be torn apart by wild beasts, but the beasts would not touch the holy martyrs.

Then the cruel emperor gave orders to throw them all alive into a red-hot brass bull, and St Eustathius, his wife Theopiste, and their sons Agapius and Theopistus endured a martyr’s death. Before being placed in the bull, St Eustathius prayed, “Grant, O Lord, Thy grace to our relics, and grant to those who call upon us a place in Thy Kingdom. Though they call upon us when they are in danger on a river or on the sea, we entreat Thee to come to their aid.”

Three days later, they opened the brass bull, and the bodies of the holy martyrs were found unscathed. Not one hair on their heads was singed, and their faces shone with an unearthly beauty. Many seeing this miracle came to believe in Christ. Christians then buried the bodies of the saints.

Troparion – Tone 4
Your holy martyr Eustáthius and his wife and sons, O Lord,
through their sufferings have received incorruptible crowns from You, our God.
For having Your strength, they laid low their adversaries,
and shattered the powerless boldness of demons.
Through their intercessions, save our souls!

Kontakion – Tone 2
Having openly imitated the Passion of Christ,
and having eagerly drunk of His cup, O Eustáthius,
you became a partaker and fellow heir of His glory,
receiving divine forgiveness from on high from the God of all.

from oca.org

Virginmartyr Susanna

The Holy Martyr Susanna the Virgin was the daughter of Presbyter Gavinius and a niece of the Holy Bishop Caius of Rome (283-296). She was raised in strict Christian piety and in her youthful years dedicated herself to God. The family of the saint was related to the emperor Diocletian (284-305), who heard reports of her virtue and beauty.

Having decided to give St Susanna in marriage to his co-emperor Maximian (305-311), Diocletian sent his own kinsman, the dignitary Claudius, to the priest Gavinius, and then his own brother Maximus. Both of them, together with the wife of Claudius Prepedigna and her sons Alexander and Cythius, accepted Baptism after conversation with the pious family. Having learned that the entire family of his relatives had been converted to Christianity, Diocletian sent them into exile.

Soon they burned the martyrs at Ostia, not far from Rome, and threw the ashes into the sea. They took the holy virgin Susanna to the palace, and the empress tried to persuade her to submit. But the empress, secretly a Christian, supported the martyr in her intention to preserve her virginity for the sake of the Lord. She explained to the emperor about the virgin’s unwillingness to enter into marriage with a pagan. Diocletian gave permission to his co-ruler to defile the holy virgin, but an angel defended her.

Macedonius began to urge the martyr to offer sacrifice to the idols. “I offer myself in sacrifice to my Lord,” she answered. Then Macedonius cut off the martyr’s head. The empress secretly buried the body of the saint. The room where the murder occurred was consecrated into a church by the holy Bishop Caius. Soon the father of St Susanna, Presbyter Gavinius, accepted a martyr’s end, as did St Caius in the year 296.

from oca.org

7 Holy Maccabee Martyrs

The seven holy Maccabee martyrs Abim, Antonius, Gurias, Eleazar, Eusebonus, Alimus and Marcellus, their mother Solomonia and their teacher Eleazar suffered in the year 166 before Christ under the impious Syrian king Antiochus IV Epiphanes. This foolish ruler loved pagan and Hellenistic customs, and held Jewish customs in contempt. He did everything possible to turn people from the Law of Moses and from their covenant with God. He desecrated the Temple of the Lord, placed a statue of the pagan god Zeus there, and forced the Jews to worship it. Many people abandoned the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but there were also those who continued to believe that the Savior would come.

A ninety-year-old elder, the scribe and teacher Eleazar, was brought to trial for his faithfulness to the Mosaic Law. He suffered tortures and died at Jerusalem.

The disciples of St Eleazar, the seven Maccabee brothers and their mother Solomonia, also displayed great courage. They were brought to trial in Antioch by King Antiochus Epiphanes. They fearlessly acknowledged themselves as followers of the True God, and refused to eat pig’s flesh, which was forbidden by the Law.

The eldest brother acted as spokesmen for the rest, saying that they preferred to die rather than break the Law. He was subjected to fierce tortures in sight of his brothers and their mother. His tongue was cut out, he was scalped, and his hands and feet were cut off. Then a cauldron and a large frying pan were heated, and the first brother was thrown into the frying pan, and he died.

The next five brothers were tortured one after the other. The seventh and youngest brother was the last one left alive. Antiochus suggested to St Solomonia to persuade the boy to obey him, so that her last son at least would be spared. Instead, the brave mother told him to imitate the courage of his brothers.

The child upbraided the king and was tortured even more cruelly than his brothers had been. After all her seven children had died, St Solomonia, stood over their bodies, raised up her hands in prayer to God and died.

The martyric death of the Maccabee brothers inspired Judas Maccabeus, and he led a revolt against Antiochus Epiphanes. With God’s help, he gained the victory, and then purified the Temple at Jerusalem. He also threw down the altars which the pagans had set up in the streets. All these events are related in the Second Book of Maccabees (Ch. 8-10).

Various Fathers of the Church preached sermons on the seven Maccabees, including St Cyprian of Carthage, St Ambrose of Milan, St Gregory Nazianzus and St John Chrysostom.

from oca.org

Hieromartyr Benjamin the Metropolitan of Petrograd and Gdovsk

The New Hieromartyr Benjamin (Kazansky) was appointed Metropolitan of Petrograd in the summer of 1917. During those tumultuous times, he was one of the few people in Russia with no interest in politics. He was more concerned with caring for his diocese and his flock.

In 1922, the Communists began confiscating Church treasures. They professed that they wanted to sell them in order to buy food for the starving population. When the people protested, there were bloody reprisals. Metropolitan Benjamin did not resist turning over the Church’s valuables, for he believed it was his duty to help save people’s lives. He wanted this sacrifice to be voluntary, however, and not a plundering of church property by the government.

On March 6, 1922 Metropolitan Benjamin met with a commission which had been formed to help the starving. They agreed to his request that the dispersal of funds from voluntary contributions should be controlled by the parishes. Newspapers of that time praised the Metropolitan and his clergy for their charitable spirit.

Party leaders in Moscow did not approve of the decision made by the Communists of Petrograd allowing voluntary contributions to be administered by the parishes, and declared that the confiscation of Church property would continue. Protesters gathered in Petrograd, shouting and throwing stones at those who were stealing from the churches.

On March 24, 1922 “Pravda” printed a letter from twelve priests who broke ranks with the other clergy, referring to them as “counter-revolutionaries” and blaming them for the famine. Most of these twelve would later be active in the “Living Church.” They called for unconditional surrender of all Church valuables to the Soviets.

The clergy of Petrograd were outraged by the letter from the twelve. Metropolitan Benjamin, hoping to avoid confrontations between the people and the Communists, tried to calm his priests. He also asked for a meeting with the authorities. Vvedensky and Boyarsky, two of the twelve, were delegated to talk with Soviet leaders, and came to an agreement. Parishes would be permitted to keep their sacred vessels if they substituted other property of equal value. This program seemed to work well for a time.

Vvedensky, Boyarsky, and others tried to wrest control of the Church from Patriarch Tikhon and the bishops. They informed Metropolitan Benjamin of the new state of affairs, declaring that Vvedensky had been appointed as the Petrograd representative of the new Church administration.

The Metropolitan could not accept this threat to Church order, so he proclaimed that Vvedensky would be regarded as being outside the Church until he repented of his error. This decree was published in the newspapers, and served to enrage the Soviets.

Vvedensky and the Petrograd commandant Bakaev went to see the Metropolitan and ordered him to rescind his decree. If he did not, they told him, he and others close to him would be placed on trial. They warned Metropolitan Benjamin that he and others would be put to death if he made the wrong choice. He refused to submit.

The courageous archpastor began meeting with his friends in order to say farewell. He also gave instructions for the administration of the diocese. A few days later, the Metropolitan was placed under house arrest. Not long after that, he was taken to prison.

As his trial began, the Metropolitan entered the courtroom with Bishop Benedict and other clergy. When everyone stood up for him, Metropolitan Benjamin blessed them. The judges tried to get the Metropolitan to renounce the idea of the parishes voluntarily contributing church valuables in order to feed the hungry, or to provide the names of those who had conceived this idea. It would suit their purposes very well if he could be made to “repent” or back away from his previous statements and submit to the authorities.

The other clergy and civilians on trial with Metropolitan Benjamin did not try to ingratiate themselves with the court, and did not accuse others in order to win leniency for themselves. The trial lasted for two weeks, and the prosecutors presented witnesses who had been hired to bring false accusations against the defendants.

Many witnesses were called, and their testimony seemed to support Metropolitan Benjamin and to weaken the government’s case against him. A certain professor of the Technological Institute named Egorov angered the court by his testimony. He was accused of being a follower of the Metropolitan, so he was arrested on the spot.

In spite of all the evidence, the defendants were found guilty. Government supporters and members of the Red Army in the court broke into applause. The defense attorney addressed the court, saying that he knew that any pleas he might offer would be useless. “Political considerations come first with you, and all verdicts must favor your policy,” he declared. Even though everyone understood that the trial was a farce, the Soviet government could not afford to make a martyr out of Metropolitan Benjamin. The example of history, he pointed out, should warn them against such a course.

When the defense attorney had finished, there was loud clapping. The judges tried to restore order, but found that many Communists in the audience had also joined in the applause.

The defendants were given a chance to speak, and the Metropolitan stood to address the court. He said it grieved him to be called an enemy of the people, for he had always loved the people and dedicated his life to them. The rest of his comments were a defense of the others on trial with him. When the presiding judge asked him to say something about himself, he said that no matter what sentence the court decreed he would thank God by saying, “Glory to Thee, O Lord, glory to Thee for all things.”

At 9:00 P.M. on July 5, the chairman of the tribunal announced that ten defendants, including the Metropolitan, were to be shot.

St Benjamin and those with him (Archimandrite Sergius, George and John of Petrograd) were executed on July 31, 1922. They had been shaved and dressed in rags so that the firing squad would not know that they were shooting members of the clergy.

from oca.org

Martyr Eustathius of Mtskheta in Georgia

Saint Eustathius, a Persian by descent, was a fire-worshipper named Gvirobandak prior to his baptism into the Christian Faith. When he arrived in Georgia and settled in Mtskheta, he was deeply drawn to the morals and traditions of the Georgian people, and he resolved to convert to Christianity.

His decision entailed a great risk, as the Persians dominated eastern Georgia, persecuting Christians and forcing all to worship fire, as they did. Catholicos Samoel himself baptized Gvirobandak and called him Eustathius. The new convert soon married a Georgian woman and was fully assimilated into Georgian society and the life of the Church.

Once the Persians who were occupying Mtskheta invited Eustathius to a celebration, but he declined, saying, “I am stamped with the seal of Christ and far removed from every darkness!”

After the celebration the fire-worshippers reported Eustathius to Ustam, the chief of the Mtskheta Fortress. The chief summoned Eustathius and threatened him, saying, “You will not remain a Christian without punishment. If you do not voluntarily turn back from this way of misfortune, severe tortures will await you!”

St. Eustathius calmly answered him, saying, “For the sake of Christ I am prepared to endure not only torture but even death itself with rejoicing!”

Since he himself did not have the authority to punish Eustathius, Ustam sent the accused to the marzban Arvand Gushnasp. Then the informers appeared again before Ustam and reported that seven more fire-worshippers had converted to Christianity. All eight of them were bound in chains and escorted to Tbilisi.

The furious marzban ordered his servants to shave the captives’ heads and beards, bore holes in their noses, hang weights round their necks, fetter their bodies in chains and cast them into prison.

Anyone who denied Christ was to be pardoned. Two of the victims, Bakhdiad and Panagushnasp, could not bear the suffering and denied Christ. The marzban freed them, while the six holy men—Gushnaki, Eustathius, Borzo, Perozak, Zarmil and Steven—remained in confinement.

Six months later Arvand Gushnasp was summoned to Persia, so Catholicos Samoel, the chieftain Grigol of Mtskheta and the nobleman Arshusha took advantage of the opportunity and requested that he release the imprisoned Persian Christians. Arvand Gushnasp yielded to the request of the Georgian dignitaries, but warned that the Christian converts would soon meet their deaths.

Meanwhile, the betrayer Bakhdiad fell ill with epilepsy and died, while Panagushnasp lived on in terrible poverty.

Three years later Vezhan Buzmir was appointed the new marzban of Kartli, and the pagan priests again reported on Sts. Eustathius’s and Steven’s conversion. St. Eustathius asked to see his family and said to them: “Farewell, for I am not destined to return home again. I will not betray Christ, and for this they will not forgive me. Imprisonment and beheading await me in Tbilisi. My remains will be brought here according to God’s will.”

Eustathius and Steven were escorted to the new marzban, and Eustathius declared before him that he would not deny Christ. The enraged marzban ordered that he be cast into prison and that his head be chopped off that night and his body thrown behind the fortress wall, to be torn to pieces by the birds. As directed, the marzban’s servants beheaded the saint and cast his body into the abyss behind the fortress wall.

But a group of faithful Christians located St. Eustathius’s body and carried it in secret to Mtskheta. Catholicos Samoel met the holy relics when they arrived, and with great honor they were buried in Svetitskhoveli Cathedral under the altar table.

from oca.org

Feast of the Holy Great Martyr and Healer Panteleimon


The Great Martyr and Healer Panteleimon was born in the city of Nicomedia into the family of the illustrious pagan Eustorgius, and he was named Pantoleon. His mother St Euboula (March 30) was a Christian. She wanted to raise her son in the Christian Faith, but she died when the future martyr was just a young child. His father sent Pantoleon to a pagan school, after which the young man studied medicine at Nicomedia under the renowned physician Euphrosynus. Pantoleon came to the attention of the emperor Maximian (284-305), who wished to appoint him as royal physician when he finished his schooling.

The hieromartyrs Hermolaus, Hermippus and Hermocrates, survivors of the massacre of 20,000 Christians in 303 (December 28), were living secretly in Nicomedia at that time. St Hermolaus saw Pantoleon time and again when he came to the house where they were hiding. Once, the priest invited the youth to the house and spoke about the Christian Faith. After this Pantoleon visited St Hermolaus every day.

One day the saint found a dead child on the street. He had been bitten by a great snake, which was still beside the child’s body. Pantoleon began to pray to the Lord Jesus Christ to revive the dead child and to destroy the venomous reptile. He firmly resolved that if his prayer were fulfilled, he would become a follower of Christ and receive Baptism. The child rose up alive, and the snake died before Pantoleon’s eyes.

After this miracle, Pantoleon was baptized by St Hermolaus with the name Panteleimon (meaning “all-merciful”). Speaking with Eustorgius, St Panteleimon prepared him to accept Christianity. When the father saw how his son healed a blind man by invoking Jesus Christ, he then believed in Christ and was baptized by St Hermolaus together with the man whose sight was restored.

After the death of his father, St Panteleimon dedicated his life to the suffering, the sick, the unfortunate and the needy. He treated all those who turned to him without charge, healing them in the name of Jesus Christ. He visited those held captive in prison. These were usually Christians, and he healed them of their wounds. In a short time, reports of the charitable physician spread throughout the city. Forsaking the other doctors, the inhabitants began to turn only to St Panteleimon.

The envious doctors told the emperor that St Panteleimon was healing Christian prisoners. Maximian urged the saint to refute the charge by offering sacrifice to idols. St Panteleimon confessed himself a Christian, and suggested that a sick person, for whom the doctors held out no hope, should be brought before the emperor. Then the doctors could invoke their gods, and Panteleimon would pray to his God to heal the man. A man paralyzed for many years was brought in, and pagan priests who knew the art of medicine invoked their gods without success. Then, before the very eyes of the emperor, the saint healed the paralytic by calling on the name of Jesus Christ. The ferocious Maximian executed the healed man, and gave St Panteleimon over to fierce torture.

The Lord appeared to the saint and strengthened him before his sufferings. They suspended the Great Martyr Panteleimon from a tree and scraped him with iron hooks, burned him with fire and then stretched him on the rack, threw him into a cauldron of boiling tar, and cast him into the sea with a stone around his neck. Throughout these tortures the martyr remained unhurt, and denounced the emperor.

At this time the priests Hermolaus, Hermippus and Hermocrates were brought before the court of the pagans. All three confessed their faith in the Savior and were beheaded (July 26).

By order of the emperor they brought the Great Martyr Panteleimon to the circus to be devoured by wild beasts. The animals, however, came up to him and licked his feet. The spectators began to shout, “Great is the God of the Christians!” The enraged Maximian ordered the soldiers to stab with the sword anyone who glorified Christ, and to cut off the head of the Great Martyr Panteleimon.

They led the saint to the place of execution and tied him to an olive tree. While the martyr prayed, one of the soldiers struck him with a sword, but the sword became soft like wax and inflicted no wound. The saint completed his prayer, and a Voice was heard from Heaven, calling the passion-bearer by his new name and summoning him to the heavenly Kingdom.

Hearing the Voice, the soldiers fell down on their knees before the holy martyr and begged forgiveness. They refused to continue with the execution, but St Panteleimon told them to fulfill the emperor’s command, because otherwise they would have no share with him in the future life. The soldiers tearfully took their leave of the saint with a kiss.

When the saint was beheaded, the olive tree to which the saint was tied became covered with fruit. Many who were present at the execution believed in Christ. The saint’s body was thrown into a fire, but remained unharmed, and was buried by Christians . St Panteleimon’s servants Laurence, Bassos and Probus witnessed his execution and heard the Voice from Heaven. They recorded the life, the sufferings and death of the saint.

Portions of the holy relics of the Great Martyr Panteleimon were distributed throughout all the Christian world. His venerable head is now located at the Russian monastery of St Panteleimon on Mt. Athos.

The veneration of the holy martyr in the Russian Orthodox Church was already known in the twelfth century. Prince Izyaslav (in Baptism, Panteleimon), the son of St Mstislav the Great, had an image of St Panteleimon on his helmet. Through the intercession of the saint he remained alive during a battle in the year 1151. On the Feast of the Great Martyr Panteleimon, Russian forces won two naval victories over the Swedes (in 1714 near Hanhauze and in 1720 near Grenham).

St Panteleimon is venerated in the Orthodox Church as a mighty saint, and the protector of soldiers. This aspect of his veneration is derived from his first name Pantoleon, which means “a lion in everything”. His second name, Panteleimon, given him at Baptism, which means “all-merciful”, is manifest in the veneration of the martyr as a healer. The connection between these two aspects of the saint is readily apparent in that soldiers, receiving wounds more frequently than others, are more in need of a physician-healer. Christians waging spiritual warfare also have recourse to this saint, asking him to heal their spiritual wounds.

The holy Great Martyr and Healer Panteleimon is invoked in the Mystery of Anointing the Sick, at the Blessing of Water, and in the Prayers for the Sick.

The Feast of the holy Great Martyr and Healer Panteleimon is the patronal Feast of the Russian monastery on Athos. The forefeast starts eight days before the Feast. Each day after Vespers, Moliebens are sung with Canons in each of the eight tones. Thus, each day has its own particular Canon. The second day of the Feast is the monastery feastday. On this day a general Panikhida is served after Vespers in memory of the founders and benefactors of the monastery, and kollyva (kutia: wheat or rice boiled with honey) is blessed and distributed.

The verses of the Ninth Ode of the Canon of the Great Martyr and Healer Panteleimon from the manuscript of the Athonite service are reprinted in the “Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate” (1975, No.3, pp. 45-47).

Life from oca.org

Nativity of St John the Baptizer of the Lord

Luke 1:1-25, 57-68, 76, 80 [delivered at St George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Vicksburg, MS]

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Today we celebrate the Feast of Nativity of St. John, the Prophet and Forerunner and Baptizer of our Lord. St. John has always held a particular place of veneration for us in the Orthodox Church. Jesus said of him, among those born of women, never has one greater been born. Traditionally in our Churches the icon next to the icon of Christ on the iconostasis is one of St. John. Since he was the Forerunner of Christ, getting the people ready for the coming of the Messiah, and since he Baptized the Lord at the beginning of His earthly ministry, St John plays a crucial role in God’s plan for our salvation. So I thought this morning to say a little about the life of St John the Baptist, and especially to look at his main message to the people – a message that was also central for Jesus, and a message that we continually need to hear as well.
In this morning’s Gospel reading, we heard about the conception and birth of St John. His parents were barren, they had no children, and this was a great shame for Jewish families at that time, especially since his father was a priest. But it happened that one time, when Zacharias was offering incense in the temple, an angel appeared to him and told him that they would have a son, and to name that son John. The angel also prophecies that John will be great in the sight of the Lord, that he will live a particularly set apart and ascetic life (not drinking wine nor cutting his hair). The angel also says that John will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his birth, and that he will lead many people back to God in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. So even from the very conception of St John, we see the work of God in his life – his birth was miraculous, seeing as how his parents had been barren until the prophecy of the Archangel Gabriel.

Everyone rejoiced when John was born, mostly that the shame had been lifted from his parents by his birth. But his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied about his son, saying that he would be a prophet of the most High God, and that he will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. The final verse of the reading is short, but significant – “So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.” St John began his life in fulfilling the angel’s prophecy – he grew ever stronger in God, and he lived a life that was different than other people’s lives, he live in the desert, being prepared for his ministry to the people.

The next time we encounter St John, he is attracting large crowds from the cities and he is preaching. His primary message is simple – “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” He calls on the people to leave their wicked ways and to return to God. And St John is not shy about speaking the truth – he speaks to the normal people, to the rich people, to the nobility, to the priests of the temple, and even to the King. He calls on everyone to repent and to return their hearts to their God. It is one day while he is preaching near the river Jordan that Jesus comes to him and asks to be baptized. St John had been baptizing people for the forgiveness of their sins, so he knows that Christ doesn’t need this kind of baptism. But our Lord insists that he be baptized, and this event marks the beginning of our Lord’s open earthly ministry. Eventually, St John’s call for people to repent leads to his martyrdom – he calls on King Herod to repent, and this angers the king and gets John arrested – later, King Herod’s wife asks for the head of St John on a platter, if you remember the story.
I would mention a few things from St John’s life that we particularly should remember for our own lives. Firstly, the constant call to repentance. We all need to repent, and we need to repent daily, even many times a day. We are reminded of this every morning and evening when we say our prayers, and how many times we ask for forgiveness. Repentance is not just feeling bad about our sins, but indicates a real desire not to sin again. Repent means that we turn from sin and do the things of God. We need to be in a constant state of confessing our sins to Christ, and asking for the strength to move forward and not to repeat those sins, and then we struggle to live according to the commandments of our Lord. 
If we live like this, in a continual state of repentance and of turning our lives to God, then our lives will resemble the life of St John. He lived apart from the people, he lived a life of asceticism in the desert. Now, I don’t mean that we’ll stop cutting our hair and live in the desert! But if we strive to live the commandments of Christ, our lives will not be like the lives of the people of the world around us. Our lives will be set apart because we’re living the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our greatest witness to the world as Christians is when we live the Gospel. When we are striving to live out those words of St Paul – it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.

And so, when we’re struggling with sin and with the weight of the world around us, we can turn to St John the Baptist and both be inspired by his life and by his words and by his witness, and we can also cry out in prayer, asking for his intercessions for our victory and our salvation.

Holy Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptist of our Lord, St John, pray to Christ our God, that our souls may be saved!

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Author Matthew Jackson