December 4th (XII - 17)
Icon of the Monk John Damascene and Holy Great Martyress Barbara
Holy GreatMartyress Barbara and Martyress Juliania (+ c. 306). Monk John Damascene (+ c. 780). Monk John, Bishop of Polyboteia (VIII). Sainted Gennadii, Archbishop of Novgorod (+ 1505). Martyrs Christodoulos and Christodoula. PriestMartyr Seraphim, Bishop of the Phanar (+ 1601). Damascene Icon of the Mother of God (VIII).
The Holy GreatMartyress Barbara lived and suffered during the reign of the emperor Maximian (305-311). Her father, the pagan Dioskoros, was a rich and illustrious man in the city of Phoenician Heliopolis; early left a widower, he concentrated all his attention in tender devotion to his only daughter. Seeing the extraordinary beauty of Barbara, Dioskoros decided to raise her concealed from the eyes of strangers. For this he built a tower, where besides Barbara, there were present only her pagan teachers. From the tower heights there opened up a view of God's world of hills stretching into the distance. By day she was able to gaze upon the wooded hills, the swiftly flowing rivers, and on the meadows covered with a gayly mottled blanket of flowers; by night the harmonious and majestic vault of the heavens twinkled and provided a spectacle of inexpressible beauty. Soon the maiden began to ask herself questions about the Primal Cause and Creator of so harmonious and splendid a world. Gradually she became convinced of the idea, that the soul-less idols -- were but only the work of human hands, and though her father and teachers offered them worship, the idols were not sufficiently clever and august enough to have made the surrounding world. The desire to know the True God so consumed the soul of Barbara, that she decided to devote all her life to this and to spend her life in virginity.
But the fame of her beauty spread throughout the city, and many sought for her hand in marriage. But despite the endearing entreaties of her father, she refused. Barbara cautioned her father, that his persistence might end tragically and separate them forever. Dioskoros decided, that the temperament of his daughter had been affected by her life of seclusion. He therefore permitted her to leave the tower and gave her full freedom in her choice of friends and acquaintances. The maiden thus encountered in the city youthful confessors of faith in Christ, and they revealed to her teachings about the Creator of the world, about the Trinity, and about the Divine Logos. Through the Providence of God, after a certain while there arrived in Heliopolis from Alexandria a priest in the guide of a merchant. He performed the sacrament of Baptism over Barbara.
During this while at the house of Dioskoros a luxuriant bath was being built. By his orders the workers prepared to put into it two windows on the south side. But Barbara, availing herself of her father's absence, asked them to make a third window, in the form of a Trinity of Light. Over the entrance of the bath-house Barbara patterned a cross, which was durably set into stone. On the stone steps of the bath-house there later remained the imprint of her feet, while within the water-spring had dried up, appearing later on with great healing power, -- all which Simeon Metaphrastes in writing about the sufferings of the holy martyress, compares with the life-creating power of the stream of Jordan and the Pool of Siloam. When Dioskoros returned and expressed dissatisfaction about the change of his plan of construction, his daughter told him about her knowledge of the Triune God, about the saving power of the Son of God, and about the futility of worshipping idols. Dioskoros went into a rage, grabbed a sword and was on the point of striking her. The maiden fled from her father, and he rushed after her in pursuit. His way became blocked by an hill, which opened and concealed the saint in a crevice. On the other side of the crevice was an entrance upwards. Saint Barbara managed then to conceal herself in a cave on the opposite slope of the hill. After a long and fruitless search for his daughter, Dioskoros saw two shepherds on the hill. One of them pointed out the cave to him, where the saint had hidden. Dioskoros beat his daughter terribly, and then locked her under watch and tried to wear her down with hunger. Finally he handed her over to the governor of the city, named Martianus. They beat Saint Barbara fiercely: they struck at her with ox thongs, and ground into her wounds with an hair-shirt. By night the holy maiden prayed fervently to her Heavenly Bridegroom, and the Saviour Himself appeared and healed her wounds. Then they subjected the saint to new, and even more cruel torments.
Amidst the crowd standing near the place of torture of the martyress was the Christian Juliania, an inhabitant of Heliopolis. Her heart was filled with sympathy for the voluntary martyrdom of the beautiful and illustrious maiden. Juliania likewise wanted to suffer for Christ. She began loudly to denounce the torturers, and they seized hold of her. For a long while they tortured both holy martyresses: they lacerated and tore at their bodies with hooks and then led them stripped through the city amidst derision and jeers. Through the prayers of Saint Barbara the Lord sent an Angel, which covered the bareness of the holy martyresses with splendid garb. The steadfast confessors of faith in Christ, Saints Barbara and Juliania, were then beheaded. Dioskoros himself executed Saint Barbara. The wrath of God was not slow to punish both torturers, Martianus and Dioskoros: they were struck down by bolts of lightning.
In the VI Century the relics of the holy GreatMartyress Barbara were transferred to Constantinople. In the XII Century the daughter of the Byzantine emperor Alexis Comnenes, the princess Barbara, having entered into marriage with the Russian prince Mikhail Izyaslavich, transferred them to Kiev. They rest even now at the Kiev Vladimir cathedral.
The Monk John Damascene was born in about the year 680 at the capital of Syria, Damascus, into a Christian family. His father, Sergios Mansuros, was a treasurer at the court of the caliph. John had also a foster brother, the orphaned lad Cosmas, whom Sergios had taken into his own home. When the children were growing up, Sergios concerned himself over their education. At the Damascus slave market he ransomed from captivity the learned monk Cosmas of Calabria and entrusted to him the teaching of his children. The boys displayed uncommon ability and readily mastered their courses of the secular and spiritual sciences. After the death of his father, John at court occupied ministerial posts and became city-governor.
During these times at Byzantium there had arisen and quickly spread about the heresy of Iconoclasm, supported by the emperor Leo III the Isaurian (717-741). Rising up in defense of Orthodox Icon-Veneration (Ikonodoulia), Saint John wrote three treatises entitled, "Against the Revilers of Holy Icons". The wise and God-inspired writings of Saint John enraged the emperor. But since the author was not a Byzantine subject, the emperor was unable to lock him up in prison, or execute him. The emperor thereupon resorted to slander. By his command there was composed a counterfeit letter under the name of John, in which the Damascus official was supposed to have offered his help towards the conquest of the Syrian capital. This letter and its hypocritically-flattering answer was sent off by Leo the Isaurian to the caliph. The caliph immediately ordered that Saint John be removed from his post, and that his right hand be cut off and then led through the city in chains. That same evening they returned the cut-off hand to Saint John. The saint began to pray to the MostHoly Mother of God for healing. Having fallen asleep, he beheld an icon of the Mother of God and heard Her voice telling him that he had been healed, and together with this commanded him to toil unceasingly with his healed hand. Awakening, he saw that his hand was intact.
Having learned of the miracle, which witnessed to the innocence of John, the caliph asked his forgiveness and wanted to restore him to his former office, but the saint refused. He distributed away his riches and together with his step-brother and comrade in learning, Cosmas, he set off to Jerusalem, where as a simple novice he entered the monastery of the Monk Sava the Sanctified. It was not easy for him to find a spiritual guide. Among the monastic brethren there consented to this only one very experienced monastic elder, skilled to nourish in a student the spirit of obedience and humility. Before anything the elder forbade John to write, on the supposition that success in this area might present a source of pride. One time he sent the monk to Damascus to sell baskets, made at the monastery, and commanded him to sell them at a certain inflated price, more than their real value. And here, passing by on the tormenting path under the searing sun, the former dignitary of Damascus was now to be found at the marketplace in the ragged garb of an humble basket-vendor. But Saint John was recognised by his former house steward, who bought up all the baskets at the entrusted price.
One time at the monastery, one of the monks chanced to die and the brother of the deceased besought Saint John to write down something by way of consolation. Saint John for a long time refused, but out of pity he yielded to the petition of the grief-stricken, and wrote his reknown funeral tropari. For this disobedience the elder banished him from his cell. All the monks began to plead for John. The elder thereupon assigned him one of the worst and most unpleasant tasks -- to remove the wastes from the monastery. And even in this the monk was a model of obedience. After a certain while, the elder was commanded in a vision by the All-Pure and MostHoly Mother of God to allow Saint John again to write. The Jerusalem Patriarch learned of the monk: he ordained him priest and made him a preacher at his cathedral. But the Monk John soon returned to the Laura of the Monk Sava, where until the end of his days he spent his time in the writing of spiritual books and church song. He left the monastery only to denounce the iconoclasts at the Constantinople Council of 754. They subjected him to imprisonment and torture, but he endured everything and through the mercy of God he remained alive. He died in about the year 780, at perhaps over age 100.
[trans. note: It is extremely deplorable that this and several other Russian accounts of Saint John of Damascus, Saint John Damascene, gloss over and ignore his great significance within the area of dogmatic theology. Saint John is generally considered to represent the close of the classical Patristic age, and his great work, "Exposition on the Orthodox Faith" ("De Fide Orthodoxa"), presents a collection and summary of the dogmatic teachings of the fathers. The "Exposition on the Orthodox Faith" is part of a larger work, the "Fount of Wisdom" ("Pege Gnoseos"), which includes "Philosophic Chapters" and an "History of Heresies", reviewing the teaching and examining the defect of thought in all the heresies up to his time. Saint John Damascene, when he was "discovered" in the West during the Medieval period, exerted an enormous influence within Western Christianity, and was highly esteemed and used by Thomas Aquinas and the Scholastics. For Eastern Orthodoxy too, Saint John Damascene's work serves, and should serve, as a dogmatic primer and summation of Patristic thought. Its sad neglect, East and West, points to the religious and dogmatic slumber of our times].
Sainted Gennadii, Archbishop of Novgorod, was descended from the lineage of the Gonzov's and was, in the testimony of contemporaries, "a man dignified, intelligent, virtuous and learned in the Holy Scripture". His monastic obedience was made at the Valaamo monastery, under the spiritual guidance of the Monk Savvatii of Solovetsk (Comm. 27 September). From the year 1472 -- he was archimandrite of the Chudov monastery in Moscow. Zealous for a strict ustav/rule of Divine-services, during the years 1479-1481, together with Vassian, archbishop of Rostov, and later his successor Joasaph, he fearlessly rose up in defense of an ancient ustav during a dispute about going "like the sun" (east to west) during the consecration of a new temple. (The dispute had arisen in connection with the consecration of the Uspensky cathedral in Moscow.)
In 1483 Saint Gennadii began construction at the Chudov monastery of a stone refectory church in honour of Sainted Alexei, Metropolitan of Moscow (+ 1378), the founder of the monastery. On 12 December 1484 Saint Gennadii was ordained archbishop of Novgorod. Already in Novgorod but still reverencing the memory of Saint Alexei, Gennadii did not cease to concern himself over the erection of the temple, "having sent silver voluntarily for the completion of this temple and refectory and chamber".
The time of holy Archbishop Gennadii as hierarch at Novgorod coincided with a terrible period in the history of the Russian Church. Judaising preachers, having journeyed to Novgorod under the guise of merchants, already in the year 1470 had begun to plant the weeds of heresy and apostasy amongst the Orthodox. The false teaching spread secretly. The first report about the heresy reached Saint Gennadii in the year 1487: four members of a secret society, in a drunken intoxication opened up and disclosed before the Orthodox the existence of the impious heresy. As soon as it became known to him, the zealous archpastor immediately set about an inquiry and with deep sorrow became convinced, that the danger was a threat not only to local Novgorod piety, but also the very capital of Orthodoxy -- Moscow, whence the leaders of the Judaisers had already journeyed in 1480. In September 1487 he dispatched to metropolitan Gerontii at Moscow all the inquiry material in the original, together with a list of the apostates discovered by him, and also their writings. The struggle with the Judaisers became the chief object of the archpastoral activity of Saint Gennadii. In the words of the Monk Joseph of Volotsk (Comm. 9 September), "this archbishop, being wroth with the malevolent heretics, pounced upon them like a lion, from out of the thicket of the Holy Scriptures and the splendid heights of the prophets and the apostolic teachings". For twelve years the struggle of Saint Gennadii and the Monk Joseph against the most powerful attempts of the opponents of Orthodoxy to betray all the course of history of the Russian Church and the Russian state. By the their efforts the struggle was crowned with victory for Orthodoxy. The works of Gennadii in the study of the Bible contributed to this. The heretics in their impious cleverness resorted to the searching out of texts from the Old Testament books, but which were different from those accepted by the Orthodox. Archbishop Gennadii took upon himself an enormous task -- to bring together into a single codex correct listings of Holy Scripture. Up until this time Biblical books had been copied in Russia, on the example of Byzantium, not in view of an entire codex, but by separate parts -- the Pentateuch (first five books) or Octateuch (first eight books), Kings, Proverbs and other instructive books; the Psalter, the Prophets, the Gospels and the Epistles.
The holy books of the Old Testament in particular often were subjected to both accidental and intentional defect. Saint Gennadii wrote about this with sorrow in a letter to archbishop Joasaph: "The Judaising heretical tradition doth adhere to -- psalms of David or prophecies which they have altered". Gathering round himself learned and industrious Bible workers, the saint collected together all the books of the Holy Scripture into a single codex, and he gave blessing that there again be translated from the Latin language those of the Holy Books, which were not found by him in manuscripts of the traditional Slavonic Bible. In 1499 was published in Rus' the first complete codex of Holy Scripture in the Slavonic language -- "the Gennadii Bible", as they respectfully call it after the name of its compiler. This work became an integral link in the succession of Slavonic translation of the Word of God. From the God-inspired translation of the Holy Scripture by the holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Cyril and Methodios (863-885), through the Bible of Saint Gennadii (1499), reproduced in the first-imprinted Ostrozh Bible (1581), the Church has maintained an unaltered Slavonic Biblical tradition right up through the so-called Elizabethan Bible (1751) and all successive printed editions.
Together with the preparation of the Bible, the circle of church scholars under Archbishop Gennadii undertook also a great literary task: the compiling of the "Fourth Novgorod Chronicle"; they brought this up to the year 1496, and numerous hand-written books were translated, corrected and transcribed. The hegumen of the Solovetsk monastery, Dosiphei, being at Novgorod on monastery matters, worked for several years (1491-1494) with Saint Gennadii to compile a library for the Solovetsk monastery. It was at the request of Saint Gennadii that Dosiphei wrote the Lives of the Monks Zosima (Comm. 17 April) and Savvatii (Comm. 27 September). A majority of the books, transcribed with the blessing of the Novgorod hierarch (more than 20), were preserved in the collection of the Solovetsk collected manuscripts. Ever a zealous advocate for spiritual enlightenment, Saint Gennadii founded at Novgorod a school for the preparation of worthy clergy.
The memory of Saint Gennadii is preserved also in other of his work for the welfare of the Orthodox Church.
At the end of the XV Century a menacing concern weighed upon Russian minds about the impending of the world, which they anticipated would be at the expiration of seven thousand years from the creation of the world. Way back in 1408 with the completion of the world-creation cycle, they had not ventured in Rus' to compute the Paschal dates further than the year 1491. Thus in September 1491, the Archbishops' Sobor-Council of the Russian Church at Moscow, with the participation of Saint Gennadii, decreed that: "the Paschalion for the eight thousandth year be written". Metropolitan Zosima at Moscow on 27 November 1492 "set forth a cathedral Paschalion for 20 years," and entrusted to bishop Philothei of Perm and archbishop Gennadii of Novgorod to each compile their own Paschalion for conciliar witness and affirmation on 21 December 1492. Saint Gennadii finished the compiling of his Paschalion, which in contrast to that of the Metropolitan, extended for 70 years. It was distributed through the dioceses by approval of the Sobor as the accepted Paschalion for the next 20 years, incorporating it as its own with explanation upon it in a Circular Letter under a general heading, "Source for the Paschalion transposed to the Eight Thousandth Year". In the theological explanation of the Paschalion, grounded upon the Word of God and the holy fathers, the saint wrote: "It is proper not to fear the end of the world, but rather to await the coming of Christ at every moment. For just as God might deign to end the world, so also might He deign to prolong the course of time". The time set by the Creator is not for Himself but for man: "Let man realise the requital of the times, that he esteem the end of his life". About the time of the finish of the creation by God, "no one knoweth however, not the Angels, nor again the Son, but only the Father". And therefore the holy fathers, inspired of the Holy Spirit, explained the world-creation cycle namely as a "cycle": "This doth occur in a circular motion, not having an end". To the heretical allures of calculating out the times, the saint contrasts the way hallowed by the Church, -- of a constant spiritual sobriety. Saint Gennadii expounded on the theological fundamentals of the Paschalion, he explains, how amidst the Alpha of the world-creation cycle it is possible to derive a Paschalion for the future, such as may be required. The Paschalion of Saint Gennadii, by his own testimony, was not compiled by him anew, but rather was obtained on the basis of a former tradition -- in part, on the basis of the Paschalion, written for 1360-1492 under Sainted Vasilii Kalika, Archbishop of Novgorod (+ 3 July 1352). By the operative principles at work in the Paschalion set forth by Saint Gennadii, later on, in the year 1539, under the archbishop of Novgorod Makarii, there was compiled a Paschalion also for all the eight thousand years.
A prayer to the MostHoly Mother of God composed by him in 1497 evidences also his deep spiritual life and prayerful inspiration. Besides his known letters to Metropolitans Zosima and Simon, to Archbishop Joasaph, to Bishops Nyphontii and Prokhor, and a missive to the 1490 Sobor, Archbishop Gennadii wrote also a church "Small Ustav/Rule" and the "Tradition for Monks", such as lived in accord to the ustav of monastic skete life. Leaving his archpastoral service, from 1504 the saint lived thereafter in retirement at the Chudov monastery, where he peacefully expired to the Lord on 4 December 1505. In the Stepen'-Ranks book we read: "Archbishop Gennadii dwelt as archbishop for nineteen years, much improving the display of church adornment and clergy decorum, and amidst heretics affirming the Orthodox faith, and then at Moscow, dwelling a year and an half at the monastery of the miracle of the Archangel Michael and Saint Alexei the metropolitan and wonderworker, wherein first he was archimandrite, and reposed then also to God". The holy remains of Saint Gennadii were put into the temple of the Miracle at Khona of the holy Archangel Michael, in that place particularly venerated by him, wherein rested the relics of Sainted Alexei, Metropolitan of Moscow. The commemoration of Sainted Gennadii is also done on the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, on the day, when Holy Church remembers all the Saints illumined at Novgorod.
The Monk John, Bishop of Polyboteia (in Phyrgia), was known as a denouncer of the heresy and impiety of the emperor Leo the Isaurian. The saint died at the beginning of the VIII Century. For his holy life he was granted by the Lord the gift to heal the infirm and cast out evil spirits.
The PriestMonk Seraphim, Bishop of the Phanar: Native to the village of Bezila, Agrapheia diocese, he asceticised at first as a monk at the Studite monastery, and later was chosen as bishop of the Phanar and Neokhoreia. For his refusal to accept Islam, after beatings he was impaled by the Turks, in 1601. His head is situated at the Studite monastery and was glorified by numerous miracles.
The Damascene Icon of the MostHoly Mother of God, by ancient tradition, was written by Saint John Damascene in gratitude for the miraculous healing by the Mother of God of his right hand, cut off through the perfidy of the emperor Leo the Isaurian. This icon is known also as the "Troeruchitsa" or "Of Three Hands" Icon of the Mother of God (Comm. 28 June, see also account under this day).
© 2000 by translator Fr. S. Janos