December 29th (I - 11)
Icon of the 14,000 Infants martyred by Herod in Bethlehem
Martyred 14,000 Infants, killed by Herod in Bethlehem. Monk Markellos, Hegumen of Monastery called "Ever-Vigilant" ("Neusypaiuschii"). Monks Mark the Grave-Digger, Theophil and John of Pechersk, in Nearer Caves (XI-XII). Monk Theophil of Omuchsk (XV). Monk Thaddeos the Confessor (+ 818). Monk Benjamin. Monk Athenodoros. Sainted Gregory, Bishop of Nicomedia, Compiler of Canons.
The Holy Martyred 14,000 Infants were killed by king Herod in Bethlehem. When the time was come for the fulfilling of the greatest of events -- the Incarnation of the Son of God and His Birth of the MostHoly Virgin Mary, Magi in the East beheld a new star in the heavens, foretelling the Nativity of the King of the Jews. They set off immediately to Jerusalem to worship the Born-Child, and the star showed them the way. Having worshipped the Divine-Infant, they did not return to Jerusalem to Herod, as he had ordered them to, but rather -- receiving a revelation from on high -- they went back to their country by another way. Herod finally realised that his scheme to find the Infant would not have success, and he gave orders to kill all the male children two years and younger at Bethlehem and its surroundings. He reasoned, that among the dead children would be also the Divine-Infant, Whom he considered a rival. The murdered infants became the first martyrs for Christ. The rage of Herod fell also on Simeon the God-Receiver, who declared in witness in front of everyone in the Temple that the Messiah had been born. When the holy elder died, Herod would not give permission that he be properly buried. And on the orders of king Herod, the holy prophet and priest Zachariah also was killed: they murdered him in the Jerusalem Temple betwixt the Offertory and the Altar -- because he would not tell the whereabouts of his son John, the future Baptist of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The wrath of God soon fell upon Herod himself: an horrid condition struck him down and he died -- devoured by worms while still alive. Before his death the impious king accomplished full measure of his wicked deeds: he murdered chief-priests and scribes among the Jews, and also his brother by birth, and his sister and her husband, and also his own wife Mariam and three of his sons, and likewise 70 men of wisdom that were members of the Sanhedrin.
The Monk Markellos, Hegumen of the Monastery called "the Ever-Vigilant" ("Neysypaiuschii"), was a native of the city of Apameia in Syria. He was early deprived of his Christian parents. He received his education first at Antioch, and then at Ephesus. All his possessions left him by his parents he distributed to the poor, thereby sundering his ties to the world. Under the guidance of an experienced elder at Ephesus, Markellos entered upon the path of asceticism. He later went on to Byzantium to the Monk Alexander, hegumen of the monastery named "the Ever-Vigilant". The monastery received its name from this, -- that in it psalmody was done constantly, both day and night. The Monk Alexander accepted Markellos and vowed him into the monastic form. Zealous in the works of watchfulness, fasting and prayer, the saint was early vouchsafed great spiritual talents and the gift of perspicacity. Markellos foresaw the day of death of Abba Alexander and his own election as hegumen; but, being himself still young, he did not want to hold authority and so immediately left the monastery to visit at other monasteries, where he received edification from the elders.
After the death of Saint Alexander, when Abba John had already been chosen as hegumen, Markellos returned, to the great joy of the brethren. Abba John made Markellos his own closest assistant. After John's death, Saint Markellos was chosen hegumen of the monastery in spite of his own wishes, and in this dignity he dwelt for 60 years. News of his saintly life spread far. And to Markellos there came from afar both the illustrious and the common among people, both the rich and the poor. Many a time they beheld Angels encircling the saint, attending to and guarding him. With the help of God the monastery "Ever-Vigilant" flourished. Saint Markellos, having received from believers the means for its enlargement and embellishment, built a beautiful large church, an hospital, and an homeless hostel. By his prayers the monk doctored the sick, cast out devils and worked miracles. For example, one of the monks was sent to Ankara and there fell ill. Being near death, he called out mentally to his abba. In that very hour the Monk Markellos heard with a spiritual hearing the cry of his student, and he started to pray, and he that was sick recovered immediately. When a ship with his monks came into danger, the monk by his prayer calmed the sea tempest. Another time, when they told the monk that a fire was raging at Byzantium, he prayed tearfully for the city being devastated in the fire, and the fire subsided -- as though extinguished by the tears of the monk. One time John, the servant of a certain dignitary named Ardaburios was unjustly accused of something, and he hid out at the monastery to escape the wrath of his master. Ardaburios twice demanded of Saint Markellos that he hand over John to him, but each time met with refusal. Ardaburios then sent out a detachment of soldiers, and the monastery was surrounded. Worn down in spirit, the brethren went to the abba, asking deliverance from the troubles. Saint Markellos boldly went out alone through the monastery gate towards the soldiers, holding a cross. A shining radiance encircled the monk, and from the cross came flashes of lightning, amidst peals of thunder. The detachment of soldiers therewith took to flight. Ardaburios, learning from the soldiers what had happened, approached in fright, and because of Saint Markellos he pardoned the servant.
The monk expired peacefully to the Lord in the year 485. His faithful student Lukian grieved terribly over him, but on the fifth day after the death the Monk Markellos appeared to him and comforted him, foretelling his own impending end.
The Monks Mark the Grave-Digger, Theophil the Weeping and John (XI-XII) are narrated about in the Kievo-Pechersk Paterikon. Two brothers being monastics, the Monks Theophil and John, so loved each other, that they prevailed upon the Monk Mark to prepare them a common grave.
Many years later, the elder of these two brothers was away on monastery business. During this while his brother John fell ill and died. Several days later the Monk Theophil returned and went together with the brethren to view where his dead brother was placed. Seeing that he lay within their common grave at the head place, he became indignant with Blessed Mark and said: "Why is he put here in my place? I am older than he". The cave-dweller Mark, bowing humbly to the Monk Theophil, asked that he forgive him. Then, turning to the dead man, he said: "Brother, arise and give this place to the older, and do thou lie down in the other place". And the dead man moved in the grave. Seeing this, the monk Theophil fell down at the knees of the Monk Mark begging his forgiveness. The cave-dweller Mark remarked to him, that he ought to be concerned about his own salvation, because after a certain while he also would be brought hither. Hearing this, the Monk Theophil became terrified and decided that he would soon die. Having given away everything that he possessed, and keeping only his mantle, he every day awaited the hour of death. No one was able to distract him from weeping nor bring him to eat sweet-tasting food. The Monk Theophil lost his eyesight from weeping. The Monk Mark before his own death -- at the supplication of Theophil to die together with him, said: "Desire not death, it shalt come, though even thou wishest it not. Herein is what shalt serve thee as a sign of thine impending end: three days before death thine eyesight wilt recover". The words of the saint were fulfilled. The body of the Monk Theophil was placed in the Antoniev Cave in the grave together with his brother the Monk John, near the remains of the Monk Mark. Their memory is celebrated also on 28 September and on the 2nd Sunday of Great Lent.
The Monk Thaddeos the Confessor, a disciple of Theodore the Studite, was a defender of the veneration of holy icons. He suffered during the reign of Leo V (813-820). During these times of iconoclast rule he was brought to trial. The heretics, in making mockery over Saint Thaddeos, put an icon of the Saviour on the ground and, forcibly shoving the saint, compelled him to tread upon it. After this the judge said: "Thou hast trampled upon the icon of Christ, now join together with us". But Thaddeos boldly answered that he would rather venerate and kiss the holy icon of the Saviour, and that the treading had been accomplished deliberately against his will. he proceeded to curse the impiety of the iconoclasts. For this they beat him with canes. They then dragged the breathless martyr by the legs and threw him beyond the city walls. But he was still alive. A certain Christian took him into his own home and washed off the grime. Saint Thaddeos lived yet another three days, and then gave up his soul to God.
© 1997 by translator Fr. S. Janos.