December 19th (I - 1)
Icon of the Martyr Boniface, Righteous Aglaida, and Saint Gregory, Bishop of Omiritia
Holy Martyr Boniface (+ 290). Monk Ilya Muromets, of Pechersk in the Nearer Caves (+ c. 1188). Egyptian Martyrs: Elias, Probos and Ares (+ 308). Martyrs Polieuktos and Timothy the Deacon (IV). Martyrs Eutykhios and Thessalonika and 200 Men and 70 Women beheaded with them. Martyr Tryphon the Presbyter. Righteous Aglaida. Sainted Boniface the Merciful, Bishop of Firentium (Florence) (VI). Sainted Gregory, Bishop of Omiritia (Himyaritia) (+ c. 552).
The Holy Martyr Boniface was the slave of a rich young Roman woman named Aglaida and he dwelt with her in an iniquitous cohabitation. But they both felt the sting of conscience and they wanted somehow to wash away their sin. And the Lord deigned to grant them the possibility to cleanse away their sin with their blood and to finish their sinful life with repentance. Agaliada learned, that if relics of the holy martyrs be reverently kept in the home, then through their prayers it becomes the easier to receive salvation, since under their graced influence sinfulness is diminished and virtues prevail. She arranged for Boniface to go to the East, where at the time there was a fierce persecution against Christians, and she asked him to bring back the relics of some martyr or other, who would become for them a guide and protector. In making his farewell Boniface laughed and asked: "And what if, lady, I do not find the relics, and instead I myself suffer for Christ, -- wilt thou accept my body with reverence?" Aglaida took his words seriously and she scolded him, that he was setting off on a sacred matter, but he was not taking it seriously. Boniface pondered over her words, and the whole while of the journey he was absorbed in thought.
Having journeyed to Cilicia, to the city of Tarsus, Boniface left his companions at the inn and proceeded to the city square, where they were torturing the Christians. Struck by the beastly horrible torments, and seeing the faces of the holy martyrs radiant with the grace of the Lord, Boniface was drawn to them with sympathy in his heart, and he rushed up to them, kissed their feet and besought their holy prayers, that he also might be found worthy to suffer with them. The judge thereupon asked Boniface, who was he? Boniface answered: "I am a Christian", -- and then refused to make the sacrificial offering to idols. They therewith gave him over to torture: they beat him so hard, that the flesh lay bare the bones, they stuck needles under his nails, and finally they poured molten tin down his throat, but by the power of the Lord he remained unharmed. The people round about the judgement-seat went into an uproar, they began to throw stones at the judge, and then they headed off for the pagan temple, to cast down the idols. On the following morning, when they had quieted down the unrest somewhat, the judge directed that the holy martyr be thrown into a cauldron of boiling tar, but this also caused the sufferer no harm: an Angel come down from Heaven moistened him, and the tar overflowed the cauldron, splattering and burning the torturers themselves. Saint Boniface was then sentenced to beheading by the sword. From his wounds flowed blood and a milky fluid; beholding such a miracle, about 550 men believed in Christ.
Amidst this the companions of Saint Boniface, waiting at the inn for him for two days in vain, began searching around for him, thinking that he had gotten caught up in some frivolous past-time. At first their search was without success, but finally they came across a man, who had been an eyewitness to the martyr's death of the saint. The eyewitness also led them to the place, where lay the decapitated body. The companions of Saint Boniface with tears besought of him forgiveness for their unseemly thoughts about him, and having ransomed for a sizeable sum of money the remains of the martyr, they brought them back to Rome.
On the eve of their arrival an Angel appeared to Aglaida in her sleep and bid her prepare herself to receive her former slave, now his own man and a patron, serving together with the Angels. Aglaida summoned the clergy, with great reverence she received the venerable relics, and then she built on the place of his grave a church in the name of the holy martyr and put there his relics, glorified by numerous miracles. Having distributed to the poor all her wealth, she withdrew to a monastery, where she spent eighteen years in repentance and during her lifetime she acquired the miraculous gift to cast out unclean spirits. She herself was buried nearby to the tomb of the Martyr Boniface.
The Monk Ilya Muromets of Pechersk, nicknamed "Chobotok" ("Shoemaker" or "Cobbler"), was from the city of Murom, and popular legend identifies him with the famous bogatyr-warrior hero Ilya Muromets, about whom were sung Russian byliny-ballads.
About the Monk Ilya is known, that he died with the fingers of his right hand formed for prayer in the position accepted even today in the Orthodox Church -- the first three fingers together, and the two outermost last fingers contracted into the palm [in contrast to the hand formation in making the sign of the Cross used by the "Old Ritualist" "Staroverie" "Old Believers"]. In the period of the struggle with the Old Ritualist ("Staroobryadnyi") Schism (end XVII - XIX Cent.), this fact from the life of the saint served as a powerful proof in the useage of the present hand formation.
The Martyrs Elias, Probos and Ares, native to Egypt, and heedless of their own safety, served Christians locked up in prison during the time of the persecution of Maximian (305-313). For this they were arrested, subjected to like manner of torture and given over unto death (+ 308).
Sainted Boniface the Merciful, Bishop of Firentium (Florence): [trans. note -- his very name "Bonifacius" in Latin means "good-doer", and hence "merciful"]. From his very childhood he was distinguished by his non-covetousness and love for the poor. On the street when he saw a destitute man, he took his own clothes and gave them away to those in need, to the chagrin of his widowed mother. One time he gave away a year's supply of the bread grain, but the Lord worked a miracle through his prayer, and the granary was again full of grain. Saint Boniface became bishop of the city of Firentium (Florence), situated to the north of Rome (Tuscany region). And even with his lofty position as bishop he remained totally non-covetous and merciful towards people, and wisely he directed his flock, exhorting it to attend to even its least among neighbours.
Sainted Gregory, Bishop of Omiritia (Himyaritia), son of Agapius and Theodotia, from his youth was filled with the grace of God and possessed gifts of healing and wonderworking. The Providence of God led him to hierarchical service. While still in the dignity of deacon at Mediolanum (Milan in Italy) he heard the foretelling of his destiny from an hermit-elder, and then he received confirmation of these words from another spirit-bearing schemamonk-elder, who asceticised in the mountains. When Gregory went to the schemamonk for guidance, a miracle occurred: the elder appeared upon a fiery column, and by night he saw him praying above the ground. The elder revealed to Saint Gregory that it was necessary for him, after praying in Rome to Saints Boniface and Aglaida, to proceed on to Alexandria and there accept the dignity of bishop, and thereafter encourage the faith in Christ in the city of Negran, in the Ethiopian empire in Southern Arabia. And so that Gregory should have no doubts as to the veracity of his words, the elder indicated, that to him was known a secret mystery: in a vision there had appeared to Saint Gregory the First-Ranked Apostles Peter and Paul, and they had placed upon him an hierarch's omophorion.
In fulfilling the will of God, having stayed a short while in Carthage (North Africa) serving as a deacon, Saint Gregory arrived in Rome. There once more he was vouchsafed a vision of the holy Apostle Peter while at the tomb of Saints Boniface and Aglaida, who imposed on him an obedience to help the Christians, suffering for the name of the Lord at Negran. And by night he saw in a dream the Apostle Paul carrying to him a cup with oil, foretokening that he should receive the grace accorded an hierarch.
During this time the armies of the Ethiopian emperor Elezboi (Comm. 24 October) vanquished the Himyarite emperor Dunaan, who was of Hebrew lineage, and the Omiritian city of Negran was liberated, and Christianity restored there. But all the Church hierarchy had been cruelly exterminated by Dunaan, and therefore Elezboi dispatched emissaries to the patriarch of Alexandria to send to Negran a bishop and clergy for the churches. After prayers, the holy Disciple Mark appeared in a vision to the patriarch, bidding him to find a deacon Gregory, who was to be ordained to the dignity of presbyter and then to bishop, and then to be sent to Elezboi. And the patriarch did this. During the time of laying-on of hands there appeared over Saint Gregory a special grace of God: his face shone with an unearthly light, and from his garb issued a fragrance of incense.
Arriving in Omiritia, Saint Gregory began to set in order the Christian holy things, and preached truth to both pagans and Jews. Saint Gregory anointed the new emperor Abraham to the throne, who commanded that all his subjects be baptised. Thereupon certain illustrious Jews turned to the emperor with a request, that he should command a debate on faith to be held between then and the Christians, vowing that if in this debate the Christians prove victorious, the Jews would then accept Baptism. After forty days the debate was arranged, so as to last for several days. Saint Gregory refuted all the arguments of the head of the Hebrew elders, rabbi Ervan, using only text references from the Old Testament. In a vision Ervan beheld the holy Prophet Moses, who worshipped the Lord Jesus Christ. The prophet told Ervan, that Ervan was in opposition to the truth and would be defeated. By the grace of God the Christian truth prevailed in the debate, but Ervan in no way wanted to acknowledge himself bested, and he made a last desperate attempt. He boldly said: "If thou desirest that I in my heart should believe in thy Christ, and that I should acknowledge that thy God -- be the True God, -- then show Him to me, bishop!" The saint replied: "Thy request is a major one. It now be not with man that thou dost contend, but with God. But, in order to affirm His faith within the people, the Lord wilt work a sign". In fear and with daring the Christians waited to see, what further would happen. Saint Gregory, having steadfast faith in God and tenaciously trusting on Him, began to pray aloud. He recollected the mystery of the Incarnation of God the Word, the miracles during His earthly life, the Three-day Resurrection and the Ascension up to Heaven, and he invoked the power of the Life-Creating Cross: "Show Thyself, O Lord, -- prayed the saint, -- to the Glory of Thine Holy Name!"
When he finished the prayer, the earth quaked, and in the East the heavens were opened up, and in a radiant cloud, amidst flaming and fiery rays of light the Lord Jesus Christ came down on earth, and thus was heard the Voice of the Lord: "On account of the prayers of bishop Gregory be ye healed of My Crucifixion by your fathers".
Like unto Saul before his becoming Paul, who on the Road to Damascus was struck blind by the Heavenly light, the Jews here were struck blind and they implored the holy bishop to heal them. In receiving holy Baptism, all of them were healed. Rabbi Ervan received the Christian name Leo (meaning "lion").
After this most extraordinary miracle, Saint Gregory guided the Omiritia flock for another thirty years. He reposed in the year 552 and was buried in a crypt of the Great church.
© 1999 by translator Fr. S. Janos