December 3rd (XII - 16)
Icon of the Prophet Sophonias and Martyr Angelos
Prophet Sophonias (or Zephaniah) (+ 635-605 B. C.). Monk Savva of Storozhevsk, Zvenigorodsk (+ 1406). Monk Theodoulos of Constantinople (+ c. 440). Monk John the Silent, formerly Bishop of Colonia (+ 558). PriestMartyr Theodore, Archbishop of Alexandria (+ 606). Martyrs Agapios, Seleukos, Mamant and their Companions (the 40 Martyrs at Sophiana). Martyrs Barisias and Melana. Monk Theodoulos of Cyprus (+ 755). PriestMartyr Gabriel, Bishop of Ganeia (+ 1659). Martyr Angelos (+ 1813). Martyress Glyceria. Monk Neophytes. Pakhromsk Icon of Mother of God (1472).
The Prophet Sophonias (or Zephaniah) was a contemporary of the Prophet Jeremiah and the Prophetess Oldama. He was of illustrious lineage [from the tribe of Simeon, and was the 9th of the Twelve Minor Prophets of the Old Testament]. The prophet lived at the royal court, where he preached repentance and helped king Josiah extirpate idol-worship.
He prophesied about the calamities that were to come for the people of Judea and the surrounding regions: Gaza, Ascalon, Crete, and against the Moabites, the Ammonites and the Ninevites.
The Monk Savva of Storozhevsk and Zvenigorodsk in his early youth left the world, accepting tonsure under the Monk Sergei of Radonezh, for whom he was one of the first disciples and co-ascetics.
The Monk Savva loved the quiet life, he shunned conversing with people and he lived in constant toil, in lamentation over the poverty of his soul and remembrance of the judgement of God. The Monk Savva was a model of simplicity and humility, and he attained to such a depth of spiritual wisdom, that "in the monastery of the Monk Sergei he was a spiritual confessor to all the brethren, a venerable starets-elder and exceedingly learned". When GreatPrince Dimitrii Donskoy, in gratitude for the victory over Mamai, built the monastery of the Uspenie-Dormition of the Mother of God at the River Dubenka, Savva became its hegumen, with the blessing of the Monk Sergei. Preserving the simple manner of his ascetic lifestyle, he ate food only of plants, wore coarse clothing and slept on the ground.
In 1392 the brethren of the Sergiev Lavra, with the departure of its hegumen Nikon into the wilderness, besought the Monk Savva to accept being hegumen at the monastery. Here he "did well shepherd the flock entrusted him, such as he could and such as the prayers of his spiritual father Blessed Sergei did aid him". Tradition imputes to his time as hegumen the finding of a spring of water beyond the Lavra walls.
A godson of the Monk Sergei, prince Yurii Dimitrievich Zvenigorodsky, regarded the Monk Savva with great love and esteem. He chose the Monk Savva as his spiritual father and besought him to come and bestow blessing upon all his household. The monk had hoped to return to his monastery, but the prince prevailed upon him to remain and set in place a new monastery, "in his fatherland, near Zvenigorod, where the place was called Storozh". Striving after the solitary and silent life, the Monk Savva accepted the offer of the Zvenigorod prince Yurii Dimitrievich, and with tears before an icon of the Mother of God he besought Her protection for the wilderness place. On the Storozhevsk heights, where formerly was encamped a sentinel, guarding Moscow from enemies, he set up a small wooden church of the Nativity of the MostHoly Mother of God, and not far off from it made a small cell for himself. And here in the year 1399 the monk established a monastery, fondly accepting all that were come for the life of solitude. The monk toiled much at the building up of his monastery. He himself dug out a well below the hill, from which on his shoulders he carried his own water; he encircled the monastery with a wooden palisade, and above it in an hollow he dug out for himself a cell for a life of solitude.
In 1399 the Monk Savva blessed his spiritual son, prince Yurii, to go off on a military campaign, and he predicted victory over the enemy. Through the prayers of the holy elder, the forces of the prince were granted a speedy victory. Through the efforts of the Monk Savva, a stone church of the Nativity of the MostHoly Mother of God was also built.
Saint Savva died at an advanced age on 3 December 1406.
Veneration of the monk by the local people began immediately at his death. The miraculous curative power, issuing from the grave of the monk, and his numerous appearances, convinced everyone that Hegumen Savva "is in truth an unsetting star-radiance of the Divine light, by the shining forth of his miracles illumining all". In a letter of 1539 the Monk Savva is called a wonderworker. Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich had particular esteem for him, repeatedly going on foot to venerate at the monastery of the Monk Savva. Tradition has preserved for us a remarkable account, of how the Monk Savva had saved him from a ferocious bear.
The Life of the Monk Savva, compiled in the XVI Century, relates how at the end of the XV Century (years 1480-1490), the saint appeared to the Savvinsk monastery hegumen Dionysii and said to him: "Dionysii! Wake up and write my face upon an icon". To the question of Dionysii, as to whom he was, came the reply: "I am Savva, the founder of this place". An old starets-elder of the monastery named Avvakum, having in his youth seen the Monk Savva, described the outward appearance of the saint. And it was precisely such as the saint appeared to the hegumen Dionysii, who fulfilled the command and wrote the icon of the Monk Savva.
The feastday of the Monk Savva was established in the year 1547 at a Moscow Sobor-Council. On 19 January 1652 the incorrupt relics of the saint were uncovered.
The Monk John the Silent (Hermit) was born in about the year 454 in the city of Armenian Nicopolis, into the family of a military-commander named Enkratios and his wife Euphemia. The boy early on began to study Holy Scripture and with all his heart he loved solitude and prayer.
With the portion of inheritance coming to him after the death of his parents, the youth John built a church in the Name of the MostHoly Mother of God. At 18 years of age John together with 10 monks lived nearby the church, in fasting, prayer and temperance. At the request of the citizens of the city of Colonia, the Sebasteia metropolitan ordained the 28 year old John as bishop of the Colonia Church. Having assumed ecclesial governance, the saint did not alter his strict ascetic manner of life. Under the influence of the saint in a Christian manner lived also his kinsfolk -- his brother Pergamios (an associate of the emperors Zenon and Anastasius) and his nephew Theodore (an associate of the emperor Justinian).
In John's tenth year as bishop, the governance in Armenia was assumed by Pazinikos, the husband of the saint's sister, Maria. The new governor began forcibly to interfere in spiritual and ecclesiastical matters. Unrest arose within the church. Saint John thereupon set off to Constantinople and through archbishop Euphymios he besought the emperor Zenon to defend the Armenian Church from the churlish enroachments.
Overwhelmed by worldly quarrels, John secretly left his bishopric and sailed to Jerusalem. With tears he besought God to show him the place, where he might live and find salvation. A bright star appeared, which led Saint John to the Lavra monastery of the Monk Sava. John, concealing his bishop's dignity, was accepted amidst the brethren as a simple novice. Under the guidance of the hegumen Saint Sava (Comm. 5 December), the Monk John for more than 4 years fulfilled obedience at very heavy work in the construction of a vagrants home, and of a monastery for newly-made monks. Seeing Saint John's humility and love of toil, Saint Sava reckoned him worthy of ordination to presbyter. But Saint John had happened to reveal his secret to the Jerusalem Patriarch Elias (494-517), and with the blessing of this primate of the Jerusalem Church, the Monk John took a vow of silence. Soon the Lord also revealed Saint John's secret to the Monk Sava. The Monk John spent four years in his cell, receiving no one and not going out even for church.
Desirous of ever greater solitude and increased abstinence, the Monk John quit the Lavra and withdrew into the wilderness, where he spent more than nine years, nourishing himself off of the grasses. Here he survived a devastating incursion of the Saracens and did not perish, only because that the Lord sent him a defender, -- a ferocious lion, at the sight of which the enemy, which more than once seeking to kill the monk, instead scattered in fright. Tradition speaks of many a miracle, effected through the prayer of the Monk John during this time in the wilderness.
When the holy hegumen Saint Sava returned, having for an extended period gone off to Scythopolis, he persuaded the Monk John to forsake the wilderness and again resettle at the monastery. And after this, the Lord in miraculous manner revealed to everyone at the Lavra, that Saint John was actually a bishop.
When the Monk John reached age seventy, his holy and God-bearing spiritual father Saint Sava died. The saint grieved deeply over this demise. Saint Sava appeared to him in a vision, and having consoled him, he foretold, that there was much toil ahead in the struggle with heresy. And actually, Saint John did have to forsake his cell so as to strengthen the brethren in the struggle with the heresy of the Origenists.
The Monk John the Silent spent 66 years at the Lavra of the Monk Sava the Sanctified. By his constant ascetic efforts, by his untiring prayer and humble wisdom, the Monk John acquired the grace of the Holy Spirit: through his prayer happened many a miracle, the secret thoughts of people were discerned by the saint, he healed the sick and the demoniac, and even during his life he saved from certain destruction those invoking his name, and from a fig-tree seed thrown by the saint onto dry soil there sprouted up a beautiful and fruitful tree.
The Monk John the Silent expired to the Lord at age 104 in peace.
© 2000 by translator Fr. S. Janos